- If your dog is shaking, it could be because they are anxious about loud noises or crowds.
- Panting, whining, limping, and a low appetite alongside shaking could signal an infection or illness.
- Shaker syndrome might be the case if the trembling gets worse when your dog is excited.
Why is my dog shaking
Just like humans, dogs can shake or tremble with fear — but there are several other reasons why your dog might be shaking. Shaking can be a sign that your dog is in pain, has low blood sugar, or has a medical condition like neurological disease.
Here are six reasons why your dog might be shaking and when you should see a vet.
1. Anxiety or stress
"Fear makes dogs shake the same way it makes humans shake," says Dr. Sarah Wooten, a veterinarian in private practice.
When dogs are afraid or anxious, a region of their brain called the amygdala responds by dumping adrenaline — the fight or flight hormone — into the bloodstream, Wooten says.
"High levels of adrenaline causes the muscles to twitch uncontrollably, leading to shaking," Wooten says.
If you can't comfort your dog or get rid of the frightening stimuli, "talk to your veterinarian about behavior training or anxiety medication that may help your pet during times of need," Matejka says.
Trembling can also be caused by pain from an injury, infection, or chronic illness. "Often, we can see dogs with arthritis or bone cancer show signs of trembling when trying to move," Matejka says.
Some other common signs that your dog is in pain include:
- Excessive licking
- Low appetite
- Avoiding being touched
3. Low blood sugar
Also like humans, dogs may get shaky when they have low blood sugar.
"When the blood sugar gets really low, muscles become starved of glucose and cannot contract or relax properly," Matejka says. This can result in cramping and muscle twitching
There are several reasons why your dog might develop low blood sugar:
- Your dog is diabetic and has received too much insulin.
- Your dog consumed xylitol, a synthetic sugar that's found in many sugarless foods, but is toxic to dogs.
- Your dog has a pancreatic tumor.
Besides shaking, some other signs of low blood sugar in your dog include:
- Lost appetite
- Weakness or low energy
"A very simple blood test can see if low blood sugar is the cause of your pet's trembles," Matejka says.
4. Getting older
"Dogs may start to develop shakes as they get older," Matejka says.
This is because your dog's body can't maintain the same amount of muscle as when they were younger. This muscle weakness can cause your dog to tremble when they walk or move around, Matejka says.
Older dogs also have a harder time regulating their body temperature — this means they may get cold more easily in cold temperatures.
5. Generalized tremor syndrome (GTS)
Generalized tremor syndrome (GTS), also called shaker syndrome, is an autoimmune condition that often affects small dogs — poodles, Malteses, and West Highland White Terriers are particularly at risk.
Dogs generally develop shaker syndrome around age one or two, and it may show up as tremors across the entire body or in just one area like the head.
The shaking tends to get worse when your dog is excited and is less severe when they're relaxing or sleeping.
Your veterinarian can diagnose shaker syndrome by conducting blood tests and ruling out other conditions like neurological diseases or distemper.
6. Canine distemper
Canine distemper is a contagious virus that attacks your dog's respiratory, gastrointestinal, and central nervous systems.
The distemper virus causes initial symptoms like sneezing or coughing, but if it spreads to your dog's nervous system, it can cause tremors or even seizures, Wooten says.
Some other early signs of distemper include:
- On and off fever
- Nasal and eye discharge
- Low appetite
According to Matejka, more advanced distemper may show up with symptoms like:
- Involuntary muscle twitching
- Chewing movements of the jaw
- Abnormal head position
- Eye shaking
- Partial or total paralysis
Distemper is included in your dog's routine vaccines — so your dog is much less likely to get sick if they're up to date on their shots.
When to see a vet
In many cases, your dog may tremble for everyday reasons like anxiety or muscle weakness from old age.
"But, if it is happening often and they are showing any other abnormal signs, they should definitely be seen by a veterinarian to rule out other potentially life-threatening diseases," Matejka says.
Some key symptoms to look out for include:
- Low appetite
There are many reasons why your dog may be shaking, including fear, infection, pain, or low blood sugar.
"If you notice your dog shaking, it is not something to take lightly. You should always seek veterinary attention if you notice your pet trembling," Matejka says.