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Why Is My Dog Shaking?

What Is Involuntary Muscle Trembling in Dogs?

Experiencing involuntary muscle trembling in your dog can be quite unsettling, especially when you’re unsure of its cause. There are various reasons why dogs may exhibit this behavior, ranging from simple issues like feeling cold to more complex underlying issues that require thorough examination and treatment.

Involuntary muscle trembling manifests as shaking or trembling movements either across the entire body or in specific parts like the head. These tremors can either be continuous or intermittent. Due to the multitude of potential causes, involuntary muscle trembling is a fairly common occurrence among dogs.

While most instances of muscle trembling do not necessitate immediate medical attention, there are exceptions, particularly when exposure to toxins is suspected. It’s crucial to remain vigilant and seek prompt veterinary care if there’s any possibility of toxin ingestion.

Symptoms

Signs indicating involuntary muscle trembling in dogs encompass:

  • Shaking
  • Trembling movements spanning the dog’s body
  • Shivering
  • Head bobbing
  • Repetitive, rhythmic muscle movements

Causes

The origins of involuntary muscle trembling in dogs are diverse, with varying degrees of severity. These causes can be categorized into several groups:

Emotion-Related

Emotional factors such as anxiety, fear, and excitement are common triggers for involuntary muscle trembling in dogs. If your dog is experiencing stress due to external stimuli like nearby construction noise or the persistent chirping of a smoke detector, it can manifest as trembling.

Excitement, particularly when anticipating activities like going for a walk or having visitors, can also induce trembling. In some cases, extreme excitement may lead to whole-body muscle tremors.

Fear is another potent cause of trembling in dogs. You might observe trembling behavior during visits to the vet or in unfamiliar environments where your dog feels scared and uneasy.

Discomfort-Related

Discomfort-related causes, such as pain, nausea, cold, and fever, can also lead to trembling in dogs. Senior dogs dealing with mobility issues and arthritis may experience trembling in their hindquarters when trying to stand on slippery floors or when their muscles tire after prolonged standing.

Dogs experiencing stomach discomfort or nausea may exhibit trembling, often preceding episodes of diarrhea or vomiting due to abdominal pain and unease.

Additionally, dogs, especially small breeds with short coats, may shiver when feeling cold, as they are more prone to chilling quickly. Similarly, fevers can induce trembling in dogs, akin to the experience in humans.

Toxins

Toxins pose a significant risk for inducing trembling in dogs. Hence, if you suspect your dog has been exposed to a toxin, it’s imperative to seek veterinary assistance promptly.

Ingestion of insecticides and pesticides, such as snail bait, can trigger muscle trembling in dogs. Inform your veterinarian if you’ve recently used these chemicals in your garden and your dog had access to them.

Certain substances like marijuana, chocolate, and xylitol (a sweetener commonly found in chewing gum, causing low blood sugar) can also elicit trembling in dogs. Additionally, ingesting compost containing tremorgenic mycotoxins may lead to involuntary tremors.

Neurologic Disorders

Neurological disorders can also be responsible for causing trembling in dogs. Conditions such as little white shaker syndrome, episodic head tremors, cerebellar hypoplasia, and seizure disorders can all contribute to this symptom, often affecting specific breeds.

Little white shaker syndrome is more prevalent in small-breed dogs weighing under 30 pounds, with breeds like Maltese, Miniature Poodles, and West Highland White Terriers being commonly affected. This syndrome manifests as tremors, ranging from subtle to severe, typically emerging in early adulthood.

Episodic head tremors, known as idiopathic head tremor syndrome (IHTS), primarily affect breeds like English Bulldogs, Doberman Pinschers, Boxers, and Pit Bull-types, resulting in episodes of head bobbing characterized by up-and-down movements.

Cerebellar hypoplasia and cerebellar abiotrophy are neurological conditions affecting the cerebellum, leading to jerky, uncoordinated movements and difficulties with walking. While cerebellar hypoplasia is usually inherited and noticeable in young puppies, cerebellar abiotrophy can develop in dogs of any age and tends to worsen over time.

Seizure disorders, such as epilepsy, can also provoke involuntary muscle trembling in dogs. Dogs experiencing seizures may exhibit grand mal episodes, involving loss of consciousness, convulsions, and loss of bladder or bowel control. In some cases, dogs may have more subtle petit mal seizures, with trembling being a possible symptom.

Certain breeds like Dachshunds and Basset Hounds may be predisposed to myoclonic seizure disorders like Lafora disease, characterized by sudden muscle twitches and jerky head movements, which may progress to full-body seizures.

Hypoglycemia

Hypoglycemia refers to low blood sugar levels, which can occur in small-breed dogs that haven’t eaten for an extended period, dogs with diabetes who receive excessive insulin doses, or as a result of toxin ingestion, such as xylitol. Symptoms of hypoglycemia in dogs include weakness, tremors, and in severe cases, seizures.

Hypocalcemia

Hypocalcemia refers to a deficiency of calcium in the bloodstream, which is crucial for various essential functions in a dog’s body. When calcium levels drop to dangerously low levels, it can result in shaking, trembling, or even fatal consequences.

This condition commonly occurs in pregnant or nursing dogs, known as eclampsia, or in dogs with disorders affecting their parathyroid glands.

Hepatic Encephalopathy

Hepatic encephalopathy is a neurological disorder that can arise due to liver dysfunction, particularly prominent in animals with shunts redirecting normal blood flow away from the liver. When the liver lacks adequate blood flow to perform its detoxification functions, substances like ammonia accumulate in the bloodstream.

This accumulation can cause dogs to appear disoriented, have difficulty maintaining balance, and exhibit muscle trembling, potentially leading to seizures. These symptoms are often observed shortly after meals, with Yorkshire Terriers being more susceptible to this condition.

Canine Distemper

Canine distemper is an extremely contagious viral illness transmitted from infected dogs or wildlife. This disease targets the respiratory, gastrointestinal, and nervous systems of affected dogs.

Symptoms typically include green-yellow discharge from the eyes, fever, coughing, and vomiting. As the virus progresses to the nervous system, dogs may experience muscle tremors and seizures, often accompanied by rough, thickened foot pads.

Fortunately, highly effective vaccines are available for canine distemper. Most puppies receive a series of three to four DAPP (distemper, adenovirus, parvovirus, and parainfluenza) vaccines, with the final dose administered after 16 weeks of age.

Veterinarians typically provide vaccine boosters every one to three years, based on the dog’s age and vaccination history.

Tetanus

Tetanus is a bacterial infection caused by Clostridium tetani entering a wound, typically a deep puncture wound.

Dogs affected by tetanus may experience muscle stiffness and tremors, usually appearing approximately one week after the initial injury. It’s crucial to ensure that any wounds your dog sustains are thoroughly cleaned and examined by a veterinarian to determine if treatment is necessary.

Diagnosis

Diagnosing involuntary muscle trembling in dogs typically begins with a thorough physical examination at the veterinary clinic. To determine the underlying cause, your veterinarian may recommend various diagnostic tests.

These tests often include bloodwork and possibly X-rays. In some cases, referral to a veterinary neurologist might be suggested if a primary neurological condition is suspected.

To assist in diagnosing the issue, your veterinarian will likely inquire about the following:

  • Any potential exposure to toxins such as pesticides, insecticides, chocolate, xylitol, or other nonfood items.
  • When the trembling episodes first began.
  • Frequency and duration of the episodes.
  • Any observed patterns or triggers for the episodes at home.
  • Access to compost.
  • Any recent wounds or injuries.
  • Presence of other unusual behaviors like coughing, vomiting, poor appetite, or weakness.
  • Pregnancy status or recent history of having puppies.

In cases where trembling episodes are sporadic, providing a video recording of your dog during these episodes can be immensely helpful for your veterinarian to understand the nature of the tremors.

Treatment

The treatment approach for involuntary muscle trembling in dogs varies depending on the specific underlying cause of the condition.

Emotion-Related

For emotion-related causes such as excitement or anxiety, treatment may not always be necessary. However, if the anxiety is severe or significantly impacts your dog’s quality of life, your veterinarian might prescribe medications such as trazodone, Clomicalm®, or fluoxetine to help manage anxiety and regulate mood.

Discomfort-Related

If trembling is attributed to discomfort, your dog may receive pain medications to alleviate their discomfort, especially if the source of pain is chronic, such as in cases of arthritis.

Anti-inflammatory drugs like carprofen might be combined with other pain relievers such as gabapentin. In severe instances, alternative pain management approaches could be considered, including monthly injectable medications like Librela™ or therapies like underwater treadmill sessions, cold laser therapy, and acupuncture. Your veterinarian might also suggest supplements like Dasuquin® or regular injections of polysulfated glycosaminoglycans such as Adequan® to help lubricate painful joints.

For discomfort stemming from gastrointestinal issues, nausea, or other internal problems, treatment will focus on controlling visceral pain and addressing the underlying cause.

Toxins

If your dog has been exposed to a toxin, the first step is decontamination.

If ingestion occurred within the last four hours, your veterinarian may induce vomiting. It’s crucial not to induce vomiting at home unless instructed directly by a veterinarian, as some toxins can be harmful if they re-enter the esophagus.

Intravenous (IV) fluids may be administered to help flush the toxins from your dog’s system.

Activated charcoal may also be given to bind any remaining toxins, allowing them to pass through your dog’s body without causing further harm.

Neurologic Disorders

Neurological disorders require tailored treatment depending on the specific diagnosis. Dogs with conditions like little white shaker syndrome often receive steroid therapy, whereas others, such as cerebral hypoplasia and episodic head tremors, may not have specific treatment options.

For dogs with untreatable tremor diseases, pet owners focus on management and ensuring their dog’s comfort. This may involve staying calm and providing distractions during episodes, like with episodic head tremors. Additionally, precautions such as avoiding slippery surfaces or hazards that could challenge a dog’s muscle control and balance might be necessary.

If your dog experiences true seizures alongside involuntary muscle trembling, your veterinarian may recommend antiepileptic medications based on the severity and frequency of the seizures.

Other Causes

Other medical conditions causing involuntary muscle trembling are managed based on the affected system. Treatments can range from simple interventions to more complex procedures requiring hospitalization.

For instance, a dog with hypoglycemia may receive oral glucose or require hospitalization with intravenous fluids containing dextrose until blood sugar levels stabilize.

Bacterial infections such as tetanus are typically treated with antibiotics alongside supportive care to aid in infection clearance.

In conditions like hepatic encephalopathy, surgical intervention may be necessary if liver shunts are identified as the underlying cause, in addition to other supportive measures.

Recovery and Management

For dogs experiencing emotion-related involuntary muscle trembling, consider employing counterconditioning techniques. This involves providing your dog with a task or command to focus on during triggering events. Teaching them to concentrate on you or respond to simple commands like “sit” can divert their attention and provide positive reinforcement through treats. Keeping their mind engaged in safe, routine activities may help alleviate emotional stress.

Desensitization therapy can also be beneficial if safe and practical. This method gradually exposes your dog to anxiety-inducing stimuli in small doses, accompanied by rewards and positive experiences to reshape their response.

In cases where trembling is linked to orthopedic pain, ensuring your dog maintains a healthy body condition is crucial. Weight management is key, as excess pounds can exacerbate joint discomfort. Adjusting their diet, potentially with the guidance of a veterinarian, and incorporating low-impact exercises like swimming or leisurely walks can improve overall health and alleviate pain-related trembling. Always consult with your vet before implementing any exercise regimen.

For dogs diagnosed with conditions requiring lifelong management and expected trembling episodes, consider making your home safer. Utilize nonslip runners or carpets on slick surfaces and install child gates to prevent falls on staircases, prioritizing your pet’s safety and well-being.

Prevention

While many causes of involuntary muscle trembling in dogs are beyond prevention, some proactive measures can mitigate risks.

Securing household toxins such as rodenticides and insecticides in inaccessible cabinets reduces the likelihood of accidental ingestion. Storing food items out of reach and fencing compost piles also minimizes exposure to potential toxins.

Supervising outdoor activities prevents unsupervised roaming, reducing the risk of encountering harmful substances or situations.

Maintaining a healthy weight and considering joint supplementation for middle-aged dogs can help prevent orthopedic issues. Avoiding fatty table scraps and properly disposing of trash minimizes gastrointestinal upset.

If your dog has a hereditary medical condition, refrain from breeding them to prevent passing on the disorder.

Keeping vaccinations up to date, including protection against canine distemper virus, and promptly treating wounds can prevent certain medical conditions like tetanus.

Involuntary Muscle Trembling in Dogs FAQs

When should you worry about muscle twitching in dogs?

Concern should arise when muscle twitching in dogs occurs suddenly and persists. It becomes particularly worrisome if accompanied by other symptoms such as lethargy, vomiting, or weakness.

What does a myoclonic seizure look like in a dog?

A myoclonic seizure presents as abrupt muscle twitching or jerking movements in a dog’s body. These movements may occur in a specific body part, such as the head, or involve the entire body.

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