dog having veterinary check up

Why is my dog shaking? Reasons why dogs get the shivers

Just like us, dogs can shake with excitement or fear, or shiver with the cold. Sometimes the reason can be medical, and a little more complicated. We look at some of the most common reasons for a dog shivering.

As always, if your dog’s behaviour is unusual, or you have any reasons to suspect something is wrong, call your local vet and get your pet checked out.

Common reasons for shaking and shivering in dogs

  • Excitement or anticipation
  • Fear or anxiety
  • Cold
  • Illness
  • Poisoning
  • Pain
  • Old age

Excitement or anticipation

Many dogs will shiver or tremble with excitement. This is perfectly normal – it’s simply a way of expelling excess energy. 

Fear or anxiety

Some dogs are afraid of sudden loud noises such as fireworks, and may cower and whimper at the banging involved in DIY, a car backfiring, or even particularly loud music.

If your dog is showing signs of noise fear it is important to make sure they are able to display their natural behaviour to cope with this which is to escape this fearful event. As a result it is important to keep them indoors but ensure they have a safe place where they can go and hide. Making a den for them in the quietest part of the home, closing the curtains and providing environmental white noise, such as the radio or TV, to minimise any startling noises outside will all help them to relax. It is natural to want to comfort and soothe your pet but this should be avoided as it can reinforce the behaviour making the anxiety or fear worse in the future. If your pet shows these signs veterinary advice should be sought to learn ways and techniques to stop it getting worse in the future.

Cold

We all know that feeling of being chilled to the bone, and your dog can experience the very same feeling, despite his furry coat! If your dog is shivering after getting caught in a heavy downpour, be sure to dry him thoroughly with a nice warm towel as soon as you get home.

Of course, most dogs shake themselves to remove excess water from their fur. This is an important reflex that helps to prevent your dog from developing hypothermia, and is perfectly normal – just stand well back!

Illness

You know what it’s like when you’re under the weather and you get a nasty case of the aches and shivers. It’s no surprise that your dog can experience the same symptoms.

Medical reasons for a dog shaking

If there’s no obvious reason for your dog shaking – such as the causes we’ve described above – make an appointment with your local vet.

Why is my dog shaking? Possible medical causes

There are a number of medical reasons why dogs shake, including:

  • Generalised tremor syndrome (GTS) – often called white shaker dog syndrome as it affects small, white dogs like West Highland and Maltese terriers
  • Inflammatory brain diseases
  • Distemper – this can be vaccinated against so ensure your dog is up to date
  • Chronic kidney failure
  • An underactive adrenal gland
  • Seizure disorders

Poisoning

One serious reason for shaking and tremors in dogs is poisoning. You’ll find more details in our article on protecting your dog from common poisons here.

In the meantime, always keep poisonous and toxic substances locked out of reach of your dog – and if you have any reason to suspect your dog may have eaten something poisonous, get him to your local vet fast.

Common dog poisons include:

  • Chocolate
  • Caffeine
  • Bleach
  • White spirit
  • Pesticides and insecticides
  • Antifreeze
  • Grapes or raisins

Old age

Many elderly dogs develop arthritis or inflammation and pain in the joints, and it’s common for this weakness to lead to tremors in the legs. Talk to your vet about pain management if you suspect your dog has developed arthritis.

Need advice on a dog shivering?

If you’ve noticed your dog shivering, shaking or trembling and you need advice, get in touch with your local vet. To find your nearest recommended vet or pet clinic, use our Find a Vet page.