Why Is My Dog Shaking?

Chihuahua laying in pink bed

He's a tumbling, bumbling, beautiful four-legged ball of fur. He adores you, and you adore him. He's your best friend and he knows exactly how you feel 24/7. Sometimes, though, you might find it hard to figure him out. Why do dogs shake, for example?

In this guide, we'll go over seven common reasons why our canine companions get a little trembly from time to time, what you can do to make things better and when to get a second opinion. Then, we'll touch on a few less-common reasons for shaky behaviour and what you should do if you suspect any of them apply to your furry pal.

Why Is My Dog Shaking?

Dogs shake for lots of different reasons, and most of them are completely benign. Let's go through each of the most obvious contenders first:

1. He's Shaking Off Water

This one's probably the most common of the lot. Pups shake — sometimes enthusiastically — to get rid of excess water after they go for a swim, go for a walk in the rain or take a bath. Remember that famous scene in Beethoven when the eponymous dog covers movie dad George Newton's bedroom in mud and water? Classic example.

Why do dogs shake off extra water, though? In short, because it helps them maintain a higher body temperature, preventing hypothermia on cold days. Really good movers and shakers can get up to 70% of the water out of their coats — so watch out if you're in the way.

2. He's Too Cold

Fido shivers when he's cold for the same reason we shiver when we're cold: to warm up. Smaller dogs and pups with thinner or shorter coats tend to tremble more in the winter months because they're less protected against the elements. If your canine companion seems extra-sensitive to low-temperature weather, invest in a padded doggy jacket and a pair of puppy boots.

If your pup's been out in cold weather for awhile and can't seem to warm up when he gets inside, do call your vet. Sometimes dogs get hypothermia and need extra help to boost their body temperatures.

3. He's Excited to See You

Possibly the most adorable reason for the trembles? Excitement. Some dogs shake with joy to shed extra energy and calm themselves down. Maybe you've been at work all day long, and he's really happy to see you; perhaps you're playing with him, or you're about to go out for a walk. In any case, he's just over the moon to be in your company.

Younger dogs tend to tremble with excitement more than older dogs because they have less solid impulse control. If you're dealing with an excitable puppy or teenage dog, wait until they've calmed down and then give them a nice, slow stroke as a reward.

4. He's Scared or Stressed Out

Dogs occasionally get scared too. Fireworks, trips to the vet, raised voices and other triggers can make your pooch feel unsafe, causing him to tremble with fear or stress. Sometimes, scared dogs also whine, whimper, hold their ears back, pant, growl or hide. Most of the time, scared dogs are pretty easy to spot.

First, try to limit the amount of time your dog spends in stressful situations. If your pup frequently seems anxious or reacts to unthreatening stimuli with a stress response, keep track of his triggers and consider calling a dog behaviourist.

5. He's an Old Timer

Does your best friend have a touch of grey around the nose? Senior dogs are no less loving than their younger counterparts — but they are prone to health issues that make shaking more likely. Some older dogs tremble simply because they're old. Others suffer from joint pain and shake because they're uncomfortable. If you think arthritis might be your old pal's problem, take him to your vet for a thorough checkup.

6. His Muscles Are Weak

Every now and then, dogs develop muscle weakness and become unsteady on their feet. Pups with muscle weakness have shaky legs — particularly back legs — and usually need extra time to recover from exercise. What's the answer? Sleep. After a good long nap, your dog will probably be back to normal. If your buddy seems extra-bothered by his muscle tone, your vet might recommend specific strengthening exercises, hydrotherapy or massage.

7. He's a Cute Little Chihuahua

"Why is my dog shivering?" I hear you ask. Is he a small breed, perhaps? Chihuahuas are cute little pups, but they're especially prone to a touch of the trembles. Chihuahuas shake simply because they're tiny — they usually weigh less than 6 pounds, so they lose a lot of heat very quickly. Your Chihuahua also has an ultra-fast metabolism, so he'll burn through his food more quickly than a larger dog.

A University of Sydney research project found that toy breeds like Chihuahuas also tremble because they're hyperactive and excitable. They're also a little more prone to doggy issues like attachment, anxiety and fear-based disorders. Dog behaviourists can help with all those challenges, so don't be shy about seeking help if you need a hand.

Troubleshoot Your Trembling Doggy

You've gone through all the common reasons pups shake and none of them seems to fit your situation. So, what's put your pooch in a quiver? Here are four rarer reasons dogs tremble and what you can do about them:

  • Canine distemper: Most common in unvaccinated puppies, canine distemper is a highly contagious virus. Its symptoms include shaking, coughing, fever, and eye and nose discharge.
  • Poisoning: Sometimes, dogs eat toxic substances or react poorly to medicines.
  • Seizures: Unfortunately, some pups are born with — or later develop — seizure disorders. Dogs experiencing seizures often shake, collapse, foam at the mouth and bite their tongues.
  • Generalised terror syndrome: This dramatic-sounding condition usually occurs in younger dogs; its symptoms include all-over muscle tremors. Thankfully, this syndrome is easy to treat.

All the reasons why dogs shake mentioned above require a trip to the vet. The sooner you get to the bottom of your pup’s trembling, the better.

In Conclusion

Most of the time, dogs shake because they're cold, wet, excited or a little worried. Sometimes the underlying cause is more serious. In either case, quick sleuthing can help you figure out what's going on so you can help your canine companion feel better.

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