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Dog Tremors: Causes, Diagnosis & Treatment (Vet Answer)

Written by: Dr. Samantha Devine DVM (Veterinarian)

Last Updated on April 15, 2024 by Dogster Team

old dog having seizures

Dog Tremors: Causes, Diagnosis & Treatment (Vet Answer)


Dr. Samantha Devine  Photo


Dr. Samantha Devine

DVM (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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If you notice your dog tremoring, it’s normal to feel nervous. Your dog is doing something out of the ordinary. Is it a seizure or something else? Your dog could be experiencing tremors. Let’s look at some of the causes of tremors in dogs and what we can do.

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What Are Dog Tremors?

It’s easy to confuse shaking and seizures, but one main difference is consciousness. Is your dog still alert? Dogs that tremble or shake can generally still respond to things around them. If your dog starts shaking and you call their name, they should at least look at you.

In contrast, dogs having a seizure almost always lose the ability to respond.

Seizures can present in different ways:
  • Full-body convulsions
  • Shaking a leg
  • Opening and closing their mouth like chewing gum
  • Even staring off into space and unresponsive

What Are the Signs of Tremors in Dogs?

You can probably picture your dog trembling without really thinking about it, but those whole-body tremors are just one way that tremors in a dog can present. They can affect the entire body or just one part. For example, some dogs develop a tremor in their head. They can be fast or slow. Your dog might still be able to walk while they tremble, or they might not move until the episode passes.

Tremors do not cause loss of consciousness. Your dog should also not have lasting effects, which we often see after seizures as the post-ictal period. With seizures, your dog may seem blind, confused, or even aggressive for hours after a seizure. Trembling dogs should not lose control of their bladder or bowels either.

Border Collie breed old tricolor dog tired or sick at rest
Image Credit: cynoclub, Shutterstock

What Are the Causes of Tremors in Dogs?

Tremors in dogs have numerous potential causes. Some dogs tremble when they’re nervous or scared, and underlying health issues can also contribute to tremors. Tremors are usually caused by an issue with your dog’s muscles or nervous system.

1. Pain

Dogs suffering from pain may develop tremors. If your dog has arthritis in one leg, you might see a slight tremble in that leg, especially when it’s getting up.

2. Muscle Weakness

Muscle weakness, secondary to age or arthritis, can contribute to trembling. As your dog’s muscles atrophy, they cannot support your dog. They might be unsteady taking steps.

3. Infections

Certain infections can contribute to tremors. For example, an ear infection can cause your dog to flick its ear or shake its head. The canine distemper virus is another cause of tremors. Vaccinated dogs are much less likely to develop the illness, but unvaccinated dogs are at risk. This virus can cause neurologic, gastrointestinal, skin, and muscular issues, potentially leading to tremors or even seizures.

A veterinarian examines a poodle ears
Image Credit: ORION PRODUCTION, Shutterstock

4. Toxin Exposure

Certain toxins are associated with tremors in dogs. These chemicals might not be toxic to you (we’re talking chocolate or other caffeinated products), but they could be toxic to your dog. Some examples include:

  • Strychnine
  • Certain fungi
  • Ethylene glycol

If your dog eats moldy food in the trash or compost heap, consider these chemicals a possible cause.

5. Low Blood Sugar

Hypoglycemia tends to occur in diabetic pets who receive more insulin than their body can handle or smaller breed younger dogs who aren’t eating enough. Other conditions could lead to low blood sugar, including an insulinoma.

6. Shaker Syndrome

Some dogs develop localized or generalized muscle tremors called Shaker Syndrome. Many of these dogs are small breeds, including Westies and Maltese dogs, so the condition is sometimes called ‘little white Shaker Syndrome.’ This condition often responds to steroids.

maltese dog hiding under the sofa
Image Credit: Alzbeta, Shutterstock

7. Idiopathic Head Tremors

You might notice your dog bobbing its head. We don’t know exactly why some dogs develop this condition, but it’s more common in breeds like the Doberman and the French bulldog. It does not respond to steroids, and many dogs will outgrow it.

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How Do I Care for a Dog With Tremors?

If your dog develops a tremor, contact your veterinarian for an exam. If they lose consciousness, it is an emergency and likely a seizure. Your veterinarian will need to know if your dog might have eaten anything out of the ordinary. Here are some questions you want to ask yourself:

  • Did your dog get into the trash?
  • Could your dog have eaten something outside?
  • Do you have chemicals your dog might have been exposed to?

Your veterinarian may refer you to a veterinary neurology specialist. Between your regular veterinarian and the specialist, type dog will likely need some tests run, such as:

  • Blood work
  • Infectious disease testing
  • Radiographs (X-rays)
  • MRI
  • Cerebrospinal fluid testing

The prognosis and treatment depend on what your vet finds on physical exams, history-taking, and diagnostic tests. Toxin exposure may mean your dog needs supportive care. Steroids such as prednisone are commonly used with dogs experiencing Shaker Syndrome.

Dogs with arthritis or muscle weakness may benefit from pain medication, laser therapy, water therapy, and even acupuncture.

vet checking dog teeth
Image Credit: YAKOBCHUK VIACHESLAV, Shutterstock

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What are the signs of mycotoxin exposure in dogs other than tremors?

In addition to tremors or even seizures, dogs that have ingested fungal toxins, or mycotoxins, may:

  • Vomit
  • Develop hyperthermia
  • Have rapid eye movement known as nystagmus

Should I wake my dog up if they are shaking?

Many dogs twitch or tremble while sleeping because they’re dreaming. You can usually let them be unless they risk hurting themselves or seem quite distressed.

puppy sleeping on pillow bed
Image Credit: Gladskikh Tatiana, Shutterstock

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Determining if your dog has a seizure or just a tremble is important because the underlying causes and treatments are often very different. Your veterinarian will need to thoroughly examine your dog to help pinpoint the cause of the tremors, which can range from excitement to hypoglycemia.

Featured Image Credit: Kittima05, Shutterstock

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