Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, former veterinarian assistant, and author of "Brain Training for Dogs."
Common Causes of Shivering in Dogs
Dogs may shiver for many reasons, so it is important to find out the underlying cause of the condition in the first place. Shivering in some dogs can be caused by physical problems too, so a veterinary exam is often recommended. Shivering may also be a manifestation of psychological issues and stress. While large dogs may demonstrate this behavior, smaller dogs seem to shiver more often than other breeds. Common triggers include:
- Arousal or anticipation
- Cold or temperature intolerance
- White shaker syndrome
Arousal or Anticipation
Shivering occurs when a dog is anticipating something it likes, such as a game of fetch. Some dogs may shiver when they see other animals and want to play, engage, or even attack. It is not unusual to see a Border Collie shivering as it anticipates seeing a group of sheep.
It is not unusual to see dogs literally shivering when waiting at the vet's office (they have good reason to do so—they sense fear in the office). Other dogs may release anal gland secretions when they are particularly fearful or stressed. Upon sensing these invisible messages, sensitive dogs become anxious as well. Add on top of this any past unpleasant happenings such as shots or painful procedures, and this behavior is quite understandable. Dogs may also shiver from fear of loud noises, mad owners, or the presence of other dogs.
Cold or Temperature Intolerance
Some dogs may shiver from the cold. These are dogs with short coats that are not adapted to or suited for the cold. Some small dogs benefit from wearing a warm coat when going outside.
Hypoglycemia is composed of two words: hypo meaning "low," and glycemia meaning "blood sugar." Toy breeds such as Chihuahuas, Yorkshire Terriers, Maltese, and Pomeranians often suffer from hypoglycemia, which makes them shaky and weak.
Toy dog breeds are genetically predisposed to have low body masses, which makes it hard for them to effectively store blood sugar. Toy breed puppies are most affected, but as they grow up, the episodes may gradually diminish. Some toy breeds may be prone to hypoglycemic episodes for the rest of their lives. For some non-emergent remedies, try the following:
- Karo syrup or honey. Simply rub it on the dog's gums. These sugary concoctions may be able to help dogs recover from shaking episodes within 10-20 minutes.
- Offer snacks. A small snack may also be helpful in such situations.
White Shaker Syndrome
White dog shaker syndrome is a condition that owners of small dog breeds (with white coats) should keep in mind. According to Petplace, this condition has yet to be fully understood.
Affected dogs appear to shiver especially when excited or stressed. The most commonly affected breeds are obviously those with white-colored coats such as Maltese, West Highland White Terriers, Poodles, and the Bichon Frise. Several dogs appear to do better once they are put on steroid medications (prednisone).
When Is Shivering Serious?
Shivering in dogs may also be a result of more serious conditions. These episodes may be caused by the ingestion of toxins, seizure activity, upset stomach, nervous system disorders, and more. For this reason, if your puppy or dog suddenly begins to suffer from shivering episodes, it is best to have your veterinarian rule out serious medical conditions.
© 2010 Adrienne Farricelli
Jamie on September 02, 2011:
Darline, thanks for that comment. My terrier min pin mix woke me up at 3 this morning shivering. He had never done that before. So I was holding him and all of the sudden he pees everywhere. Guess I know what he means now. Thank u for commenting.
Dallas W Thompson from Bakersfield, CA on December 03, 2010:
Your love of dogs shows.
Thanks for informative article...
Darlene Sabella from Hello, my name is Toast and Jam, I live in the forest with my dog named Sam ... on December 03, 2010:
When my little poodle has to go outside to do her business, she comes up to me and hugs me around my neck and starts to shiver, then I say, "do you have to go potty" then she jumps for joy...how funny is this...great hub, rate up peace & love darski
As I have said before, if you want to figure out the solution, you have to know the cause first! As you go through the list of causes down below, make sure to look at their particular symptoms, and if you find a match, take a look at the solution and if you can fix it at home, do so.
1. Distemper (Fatal Virus)
Any type of tremors such as the shaking of the back legs can be included as one of the distemper symptoms. If you have taken your dog to vaccination, you probably will recognize this term distemper since this is one of the viruses that should be included in your pet’s vaccination.
Canine distemper is a highly contagious disease with an even higher mortality rate since there is no cure for this type of virus. Because this virus is highly contagious, an infected dog will have to stay separated from other pets since distemper can spread through the air droplets of its victims and also by surface contamination.
Due to its attack on the gastrointestinal and respiratory systems, dogs infected with distemper will first develop discharge from their eyes, which can turn to fever, nasal discharge, coughing, lethargy, and induced vomiting. As the virus focuses its target on the nervous system, muscle twitches such as your dog’s back leg shaking can occur.
If you suspect that the culprit behind all those tremors is distemper, take your dog to the vet as soon as possible since dogs infected with distemper can result in death. Even if they recover from this virus, those pets will live the rest of their life with a scarred nervous system.
2. Natural & Unnatural Causes
If you see your dog’s back legs are shaking, you might be seriously alarmed, but first, relax and assess the situation that is in front of you. Some of the natural causes behind those tremors can be the cold weather and extreme hunger. Sometimes, electrolyte imbalances (salt & electrolyte deficiency) might be the culprit behind it.
I really hope that you don’t leave cleaning products or toxic substances lying around the house since ingestion of toxins can cause your dog to tremor as well. Last but not least, joint problems due to old age can cause pain for your dog when he tries to stand, which can result in tremors.
If you want to keep your dog’s body as healthy as possible, you might need to include joint supplements into your dog’s diet, so that your canine companion gets the necessary ingredients for his health boost. Make sure to keep track of your pet as he continues to age since there are many degenerative disorders to keep track of!
3. Little White Shaker Syndrome
Also known as the General Tremor Syndrome (GTS), Little White Shaker Syndrome is a condition where a pet displays generalized tremors in his head and his body. Even though the origin behind GTS is still unknown, let me still lighten up the mood by saying that this section is not as serious as the distemper portion.
Often happening in little white dogs, GTS is most commonly seen in Maltese, Poodles, and even White Highland White Terriers. Mind you, this condition can happen to any breed of dog regardless of age, but it happens the most in white dogs that stay pretty small in size for the rest of their life.
If your dog’s back legs are shaking and your vet has eliminated every other factor in this list except for GTS, he is going to assume that your pet is suffering from the Shaker Syndrome. Due to its high treatment rate, your vet will assign a steroid that suppressed your pet’s immune system, and your dog will resume his normal life after a week or so.
4. Neurological Disorders
This last section is for dogs that are experiencing tremors for prolonged periods of time. Chronic tremors often indicate some problem in the nervous system since neurological disorders and movement deterioration come in pairs. If your dog is experiencing chronic tremors, go to your vet for further assistance.
He will be able to conduct tests on your pet’s nervous system, which might be the solution that you were looking for all along. If you have tried your best and your dog is still experiencing tremors or going worse, make sure to visit your nearby veterinarian for professional guidance.
When Is Shaking Normal for Dogs?
Usually, shaking in dogs is normal, and you won’t have to be too concerned about it. Solutions can be as easy as monitoring their emotions or making sure they’re warm in the winter. The best way to approach normal shaking in dogs is to understand what causes it.
Emotional situations can trigger some dogs to shake. Excitement is just one emotion that may be causing your dog to tremble.
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It can be helpful to pay attention to their behavior and patterns when they start to shiver to get a better understanding of the cause. If they begin to shake when they see you grab their leash or when they see other dogs, then it’s probably doing so out of pure excitement.
Sure, dogs have fur, but that doesn’t mean they’re immune to the cold. Some dogs have thinner coats than others or they don’t have enough body fat to keep them warm, especially in winter. It is common for dogs to shake when the temperature drops.
If it’s cold out and your dog is shivering, try warming them up with a blanket or sweater. If you have an outdoor dog, you can let it inside on cold days or make sure they have a warm sleeping area. Or a simple dog house with some bedding can provide adequate warmth during cold weather.
For indoor dogs, if their bed is on a tile or wood floor, try adding a rubber mat or a blanket underneath for extra insulation. After all, who would want to lay on the cold floor in the dead of winter?
6 Reasons Your Dog May Shiver
Dr. Marc is a veterinarian guest blogger for Pets Best Insurance, a pet insurance agency for dogs and cats.
First let’s start with clarifying what shivering (or trembling) is versus what a seizure is.
A seizure is when the dog suddenly loses all body control, paddling their legs, jerking or convulsing. It can last for a number of minutes. To learn more, visit Dr. Fiona’s blog post on dog seizures.
Shivering is when a dog can make eye contact with you and respond to you, but its body is shaking. Shivering can vary from minimally, to a lot, but the dog still has control of its body.
6 Reasons Your Dog May Shiver
1) The most common reason a dog shivers is due to being cold. A normal dog’s temperature may be as high as 102.5 F. Since a dog’s body is warmer than a persons, just touching your dog won’t accurately let you know if they’re cold or not. So be careful during the winter months with dogs being outside, especially little dogs.
2) Dogs shiver due to anxiety or fear. Thunderstorms, fireworks, travel, or any type of environmental change can cause dogs anxiety or fear. If your dog has severe shivering and anxiety in these situations, they may benefit from an anti-anxiety medication during the stressful periods. Your veterinarian can help you evaluate your therapeutic options.
3) Dogs shiver with excitement. For example there may be a squirrel outside they really want to go chase. Or before being fed, they see the food going in the bowl and they start shivering with anticipation.
4) Dogs shiver because it’s a learned behavior. This occurs when a dog shivers and it results in a desired response. For example, every time Fluffy shivers, mom says, “poor Fluffy.” Fluffy then gets picked up, wrapped in a blanket and showered with attention. Fluffy quickly learns that just by shivering she gets the attention she wants.
5) Shivering can result from medical and physiologic problems. The pain or illness can cause dogs to shiver. It’s important to find the underlying problem so that it can be addressed. In addition to shivering from the pain, the pain itself can induce anxiety in the dog, resulting in more shivering.
6) There are also some toxins that can cause a convulsive response in the animal. This convulsive like behavior could be misconstrued as shivering, when in reality it may be a much more serious issue.
If your dog’s shivering seems out of the ordinary, or like it’s resulting from a serious issue, you need to visit your veterinarian. They can help if there is a medical issue or possibly prescribe medication to help.
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Is Your Dog Shivering or Trembling? Find Causes and Solutions
Dogs shiver or tremble due to variety of reasons. Most commonly, dogs shiver when they feel hungry, cold, anxious, or frightened. Some dogs also shiver when their blood sugar is quite low or before a seizure attack.
Often, dog owners unable to distinguish between dog seizure attack and shiver. Here is the difference between the two:
Seizure- Seizure attack occurs when dog all of a sudden loses all its body control, paddling its legs, convulsing or jerking. The attack can last for one or two minutes.
Shivering– Shivering happens when dog is able to make eye contact with you and respond to you, but its body is continuously shaking. It can vary from one minute, to several minutes but the dog still has control of its body.
Let’s learn more about the causes of dogs shivering:
Causes of Dog Shivering
There are mainly seven reasons for shivering in a dog. These reasons include:
- Anxiety: It can happen due to loud noises (like fireworks) or separation from the owner (also called separation anxiety). Further, it may happen due to fear as a result of previous abuse.
- Pain: It can include neck, back or abdominal pain.
- Muscular or Joint Problems: Muscular or joint problems are rare in dogs, but can cause severe shivering or shaking. Degenerative joint diseases like arthritis can cause shaking in the affected limbs. Therefore, you should be well aware with joint care products and should apply these products on the affected limbs regularly.
- Toxic Poisoning: Shivering in dogs can also happen due to food poisoning. Certain doses of snail bait, nicotine, xylitol (found in sugarless gum) and chocolate can cause shiver in dogs because of their toxicity. You should be well aware with toxic food items for dogs and should avoid giving these products to your canine companion.
- Viruses or neurological conditions– Distemper (viral disease of some animals, especially dogs, causing coughing, fever, and catarrh) can lead to neurological symptoms including tremor. All dogs should be vaccinated against these viruses. Neurological conditions like brain tumors, seizures, encephalitis or strokes can also cause shivering in dogs.
- Heart Problems- If your dog is shaking he may have a cardiovascular problem. In dogs with cardiovascular disease, it may happen that the heart is enlarged, which press the lungs making it difficult for dog to breathe. In this condition, shaking may also occur
- Other reasons– Adrenal failure (Addison’s disease), chronic renal (kidney) failure or overheating can also cause shaking, seizures and shivering in dogs.