7 Reasons Why Your Dog Shakes

If your dog is trembling or shaking, they are trying to tell you something.

Published February 12, 2023
Close-Up Of Dog On Sofa

If your dog is shaking, trembling, or shivering, you're probably concerned something is wrong. Fear not, we have the explanations you're looking for. It's very common for dogs to shake or tremble. They do this for a variety of reasons, ranging from trying to cool down to feeling stressed out or even excited. Also, there are medical conditions that could cause your dog to shake, so watch out for the signs your dog has a health issue.

Why Does My Dog Shake?

One of the most common reasons dogs shake is out of fear or anxiety. If you see your dog shaking when they hear loud noises, when they're surprised, or when they're around strangers, stress is probably the cause. If your dog is whining, panting excessively, limping, or showing signs of pain, something else might be going on. Learn to read your dog's body language to help determine what's causing them to tremble or shiver.

1. Dogs Shake from Fear

Shaking can be a sign of fear. When a dog is scared, the muscle contractions associated with their fight-or-flight response cause them to shake. This behavior usually looks like uncontrollable trembling and may also include making noises or going to the bathroom.

Shaking from fear can be one symptom of other conditions in dogs, including:

  • Separation anxiety: Separation anxiety is characterized by signs of distress when the dog is left alone by their owner. It occurs most commonly in dogs that were adopted at an early age or have been in stressful situations like a shelter environment.
  • Panic disorder: Panic disorders are characterized by sudden attacks that occur without warning or provocation. These attacks are often triggered by loud noises or certain types of changes in the environment, such as the appearance of an unfamiliar person. Panic attacks are similar to panic disorders, but last longer than 10 minutes.

2. Small Dogs Shake More

Small dogs are very prone to trembling. This is because they are small, delicate creatures who are easily frightened. They also have very sensitive nervous systems that can be easily triggered by sounds or movements that they hear or see. Some small dogs don't have this problem, but it is more common than in larger breeds.

Small dogs also tend to be more reactive than larger dogs, which can make them seem more anxious. It's important to remember that there's a big difference between being scared and being aggressive. Small dogs may bark and growl at new people or situations, but they're not trying to be mean. They're just nervous.

3. They're Overstimulated

Dogs often shake when they are overstimulated, like when they play too hard with other dogs or when they get cuddled by someone they don't know. For example, this can happen if you're not used to handling dogs or if your dog has never been around children before, or vice versa.

Shaking is also a way that many dogs release their energy after exercise or playtime. After running around outside, some dogs will come into the house and shake off their fur on the floor because they need a way to let go of all that pent-up energy!

4. They're Shaking from Excitement

Corgi in the fall

If your dog is shaking, they may be excited because they're expecting something. This can happen even if they've been resting comfortably on their dog bed, and you pick up a leash or jingle your keys.

Excitement can lead to shaking because it's a way for the body to release excess energy and excitement. When dogs are excited, they may need relief from that feeling. This could be by barking or chasing something, but sometimes it just manifests itself in a very obvious way, with lots of physical movement! So what kinds of things make dogs excited?

  • Seeing you after being away from home for too long
  • Anticipating their meal or a treat
  • Seeing a new toy you brought home for them to play with
  • Going on walks, especially when they're allowed off-leash

5. They Might be in Pain

If you see your dog shaking a lot, it could be because they're in pain. Pain in dogs can manifest itself in a variety of ways, including pupillary dilation and excessive shivering or trembling. Additional signs of pain include:

  • Lying down more than usual
  • Walking stiffly
  • Whining or yelping, especially if you are touching a sensitive spot
  • Sluggishness and lack of energy
  • Withdrawing from interactions with people or other animals

If your dog seems like their symptoms are severe or worsening over time, you should take them to your veterinarian for a checkup as soon as possible.

6. It's Cold Out

Dogs are sensitive to temperature, so if you have a small dog, they might be more sensitive than a larger dog. If it's too cold for your pet, they will start to shiver and shake in an attempt to generate heat by moving their muscles. When that doesn't work well enough and hypothermia sets in, your dog will start shaking even more intensely, which can lead to seizures or cardiac arrest if their condition goes untreated.

It's important not to overheat them by putting them somewhere that is too warm, like on top of the heater vent or inside a box with blankets wrapped around them. Warming them up too quickly can do more harm than good. Instead, give them space in front of an open window so they can get some fresh air while being warmed up naturally by the sun's rays outside.

7. They Need a Nap

Dogs can get tired and worn out, just like you do! If your dog is shaking, it could be because they are just plain exhausted. If your pup hasn't had a chance to take a nap or hasn't been sleeping well lately, this could be the case.

Give your dog some time alone to relax. Remove any distractions from your dog's view. This could include furniture or other items that may look interesting to your dog. You can also play soft music or play white noise to help your dog relax or fall asleep more easily.

8. They have a Medical Condition

If your dog has a medical condition that makes them shake, this is likely the cause of their tremors. This could be anything from seizures to hypoglycemia or even rabies.

  • Seizures: If your dog has seizures, they may have an underlying health issue such as diabetes or epilepsy. Other causes include brain tumors and strokes.
  • Hypoglycemia: Hypoglycemia refers to low blood sugar levels, which can occur when dogs eat too much food at once or go for long periods without eating anything at all. It's important that you keep track of how much food your dog eats in one sitting so they don't become hypoglycemic.
  • Rabies: Rabies is an infectious disease caused by a virus found in the saliva of infected animals such as raccoons, bats, and skunks. The most common symptom of rabies is excessive salivation, but it also causes depression and disorientation in dogs.

If you suspect your dog has a medical condition, it is important that you take them to the veterinarian right away. Shaking is just one symptom, and if your dog is otherwise healthy, they probably don't need a vet visit. Watch them for signs of distress or pain, and if you suspect something else is going on with them, give your vet a call and find out how to handle it.

How to Handle Behavioral Shaking

Dogs who tremble out of fear or excitement may stop on their own. Reassure them and try to calm them down. If they're afraid, remove them from the stimulus that's causing fear. If they're just trembling because they can't wait to go for a walk, you probably don't need to worry. Try these methods to help settle their shakes:

  • Avoid their fear triggers
  • Make sure they get enough exercise
  • Consider training methods, such as counter conditioning

How to Handle Physiological Shaking

Shaking caused by a medical condition or something in your dog's environment, you need to address the cause. If your dog is cold, warm them up carefully. If they are tired, try kennel training and give them a nap. However, if they're in pain or have a medical condition, you need to take them to the veterinarian, or at least give your vet a call to discuss their symptoms.

Dogs Shake for a Variety of Reasons

If your dog is shaking excessively, keep an eye on them and talk to your vet or a dog expert, even if you suspect it's just a behavioral issue. There are many reasons dogs shake, and they can be hard to distinguish if you're not an expert in canine behavior. The best thing to do is talk with a professional - including a canine behaviorist or dog trainer - who has experience with dogs so they can help you figure out what's going on. Describe what happened just before your dog started shaking. The specialist will ask questions about their diet and exercise routine. They might also draw blood and run other tests to find out what's causing the shaking.

7 Reasons Why Your Dog Shakes