Why Is My Dog Shaking? 8 Possible Reasons
It could be excitement, a touch of anxiety, or something more serious. Here’s how to suss out what’s going on with your pup.
Our dogs are our constant, and arguably our best, companions. Some aspects of dog behavior are easy to interpret, like that happy tail wag as you gather their leash before heading out for a walk. But for every dog owner who’s been reassured that their dog is staring at them for a good reason, there’s one who’s wondering: Why is my dog shaking? Could they be trembling with dog anxiety or shivering because of dog depression? No one wants their dog to be distressed, and a symptom like quivering or shaking can be a cause for concern in some cases. However, if you notice your dog shaking, the first thing to do is to examine the context.
“Reading your dog’s body language and taking the situation into consideration usually helps determine what is causing the shaking,” says Nicole Fulcher, DVM, assistant director of the Animal Medical Center of Mid-America in St. Louis, Missouri. Often, there’s no reason to worry, but it’s always worth calling your vet if you’re really concerned or if the shaking is prolonged. Here are the top reasons that your dog may be shaking—and what you should do. While you’re at it, you’ll also want to learn what your dog’s facial expressions mean.
Top reasons why your dog is trembling
1. Your dog is shaking from excitement
“Many things that cause dogs to shake are no cause for worry—they can shake for all kinds of reasons,” says Rachel Barrack, DVM, founder of the concierge practice Animal Acupuncture in New York City. “Joy and excitement is a big one. Seeing you walk through the door after a long day out is often reason enough to shake with excitement.”
If you’ve ever had some really exciting news and felt the fizzy, shivery buzz of an adrenaline rush, then you know how your dog feels. You might be more used to your pooch jumping up and down or barking when they see you come home, but it turns out that many dogs will shake when they become very excited, or when they know something exciting is going to happen—like the end of your work day! Actually, if you see humans trembling a bit on Friday afternoons, it’s for the same reasons. You might notice your dog getting the shakes when you come home if you’ve been away longer than usual, as well. That’s just how your pet says “I love you!”
2. Your dog is reacting to the weather
If the answer to “why is my dog shaking” is the same as “why am I shaking?” it must be winter. Dogs get cold, just like people. Toy breeds, in particular, tend to shake and tremble more than other types of dogs; this especially happens with Chihuahuas.
“This can be due to their small size, so they tend to feel colder than larger dogs do, and this can cause them to shiver,” explains Dr. Barrack. Because of their small size, their whole bodies tend to shake. Breeds that have short or sparse coats, like greyhounds and whippets, also have a higher sensitivity to cold and will probably shake if it’s chilly out. Making sure to dress your fur baby in a sweater or jacket on cold days can go a long way, suggests Christie Long, DVM, head of veterinary medicine at Modern Animal in Los Angeles. That sort of concern for your pet is one of the telltale signs of a great dog owner.
3. Your dog is stressed or sad
Dogs may seem to live happy-go-lucky, carefree lives, but they experience upsetting emotions too. “Shaking can also be a sign of stress or sadness, but it’s not really a reason to worry then, either,” says Dr. Barrack. “It is totally normal for your dog to feel those emotions and to shiver or tremble due to one of them.” For instance, loud noises—thunder, fireworks, or car alarms—are a common dog stressor. Some dog parents swear by ThunderShirts to calm their pups in those circumstances, or rely on soothing music. A change in household dynamics, whether it’s a favorite human away on a long business trip, the death of another pet, or a kid who’s gone off to college, can make a dog feel stressed, which might cause them to shake. That’s your cue to start doling out the cuddles.
4. Your dog has picked up a scent
Dogs can also shake when they are alarmed or excited by other animals and their scents. “A perfect example would be a beagle that shakes when he is on the hunt, sniffing wildlife, like a raccoon,” says Dr. Fulcher. “Often, the animal will raise their head and vocalize when they are shaking during the pursuit.” Dog owners know their dogs can sing and bark, but do you understand all the noises your dog makes?
5. Your dog is anxious or frightened
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Unsurprisingly, many animals, dogs included, will shake or tremble when they are nervous and scared. That’s the adrenaline rush again, and as Dr. Fulcher notes, “there is often a pattern to this type of behavior.” Maybe your dog takes a while to get used to people, so they begin to shake every time a stranger passes by on your walk. The classic scenario is the dreaded trip to the vet’s office. Somehow, dogs just know when you’re headed there, as opposed to, say, the dog park. According to University Veterinary Hospital in Shreveport, Louisiana, a good way to mitigate that fear is to bring your dog in for a vet visit that doesn’t involve a shot. Arrange to take him in just to get weighed, petted, and sent home with a treat. To solve another canine mystery, find out why your dog follows you everywhere.
6. Your dog has an underlying medical condition
“It is important to watch for other symptoms that coincide with the shaking, such as problems eating, vomiting, or limping,” says Dr. Barrack. “That is a reason to call the vet, as this could indicate a more serious problem, such as a seizure disorder.” Anxiety coupled with confusion can actually be the first symptom of a seizure in dogs before the telltale twitching or shaking starts. FYI, certain breeds, including miniature schnauzers, boxers, cocker spaniels, and Labrador retrievers, have a higher incidence of seizure disorders or epilepsy than others.
7. Your dog has an ear infection
If your dog isn’t shaking or trembling all over but you see a lot of head shakes, better check their ears. “Dog owners should also watch for excessive head shaking, as this could signal an ear infection,” adds Dr. Barrack. Cocker spaniels, basset hounds, and golden retrievers are more prone to ear infections than other breeds, and as a result, they’re more apt to exhibit that type of shaking. While ear infections in dogs are commonplace and rarely serious, you should call your vet if you suspect one. Treatment is usually straightforward (often ear drops or an oral antibiotic).
8. Your dog is in pain
“Shaking can also be indicative of pain, muscle weakness, or, occasionally, systemic medical problems,” says Gary Richter, DVM, medical director of Holistic Medical Care and founder of Ultimate Pet Nutrition in Los Angeles. This is more frequently the case with older dogs, he adds. Other warning signs that your dog is in pain include an uncharacteristic lack of appetite, whimpering, and heavy breathing. Of course, if the pain-related shaking is fleeting, it’s likely not a big deal. “For example, if the shaking occurs during a winter walk, then the reason may be the temperature or ice on the ground hurting his paws,” says Dr. Fulcher.
It’s important to note that trembling or shaking that does not go away or affects a dog’s daily routine needs to be addressed quickly and assessed by a veterinary professional. Remember: You know your dog best, so if something seems off, there’s a good chance that it is. It’s always better to be safe than sorry, so your dog can shake it out in peace!
- Nicole Fulcher, DVM, assistant director of the Animal Medical Center of Mid-America
- Rachel Barrack, DVM, founder of Animal Acupuncture
- Christie Long, DVM, head of veterinary medicine at Modern Animal
- University Veterinary Hospital: “My Dog Hates Going to the Vet”
- Ethos Veterinary Health: “Seizures and Idiopathic Epilepsy”
- Gary Richter, DVM, medical director of Holistic Medical Care and founder of Ultimate Pet Nutrition