Shaking, Shivering And Trembling In Dogs

Getting a new pet is an exciting time for anyone, and you’ll want to try and bond with them as much as you can. This means that you need to learn about all their idiosyncrasies and habits, so that you can identify their needs and look after them properly.

Unfortunately, there are some things you might see in your dog’s behavior that are not usual.

Shaking, Shivering and Trembling in Dogs

This can make you worried that there is something wrong – it is best that you get your dog checked out by a veterinary professional as soon as you start to notice that something is different, so that you can act quickly if there are any medical conditions that need treatment.

One of the most common symptoms that dogs exhibit is shaking – this might be gentle trembling or more pronounced shivering. 

Just like with humans, this can have various causes and meanings, so you may need to look more deeply into the reasons why it’s happening. This can help you to figure out if there is something seriously wrong, or if there’s a quick fix you can do to solve it.

What Does It Mean When Dogs Shake Their Head?

Dogs shake their heads when they want to communicate something to us. They also shiver when they are cold, scared or excited.

The thing they are trying to communicate could be simply that they are hungry, or it could be a warning of imminent danger. As you can see, there are a range of different reasons for shaking the head, so try and work out what your dog is saying to you.

Your dog may be confused. When he shakes his head rapidly, he may not know what he’s doing. He may feel frustrated or anxious. He may just be having fun!

The main reason for this behavior is that there is something agitating him and he isn’t quite sure what to do about it himself. Don’t worry; once he figures out what he is trying to tell you, he’ll usually stop. 

If you have a dog that shakes his head frequently, he may be trying to warn you of danger. He may be signaling that there is an intruder nearby, as unusual behavior .

Sometimes shaking the head can mean “no” as well. For example, if your dog is barking at intruders and you go into another room where the noise doesn’t bother him, he’ll probably keep on barking until you return to his side.

What Do Dogs Shake Their Heads At?

You’d think that dogs shake their heads so we wouldn’t miss them when they’re trying to get our attention, but, in fact, this behavior occurs about 70% of the time when we interact with our dogs.

Even though it seems like they’re just getting away from us, they actually aren’t. Instead, they are communicating something to us. Here are some examples:

When your dog is frightened, he may shake his head or tremble rapidly. This is called a startle response. The faster the dog moves his head back-and-forth, the more startled he feels. It’s similar to a fast blink — only instead of looking away from a bright light, the dog looks toward it.

Startle responses occur when your dog senses something unusual. In these cases, your dog is trying to tell you that there is an unexpected threat near you.

When your dog growls or barks, he’s warning you that there might be trouble. A growl means that your dog is upset by the situation. Biting or snapping could indicate that he wants to teach someone a lesson.

Growls tend to occur around people but rarely around other animals. Head shaking that is accompanied by growling could be simply advising you to stay away.

Your dog may shake his head when he wants to show you how happy he is. This is called a cheer. Your dog may also shake his head when he feels excited or playful.

In these cases, there probably isn’t a medical condition that needs attention, so you should play with your dog as usual and pet him. Other clues that he is just happy or excited may include tail wagging, relaxed ears, and dancing around.

Causes of Head Shaking

Shaking, Shivering and Trembling in Dogs (2)

As we have mentioned, there are various reasons for head shaking in dogs and it is useful to be aware of them so that you might have a better idea of what is going on. These causes may include:

Genetics – Your dog may inherit a tendency to shake his head. Sometimes this is hereditary, whereas other times it may have come from exposure to environmental factors such as weather and diet.

Health Issues – There are several different health issues that can result in head shaking, including ear infections, heart problems, thyroid disorders, and neurological diseases. Your veterinarian can help determine whether any of these conditions are present.

Injury – When your dog suffers from an injury you may see signs of pain, discomfort, or agitation. Severe injuries may cause your dog to exhibit abnormal behavior.

Pain – Head shaking may be due to pain caused by a dental problem, arthritis, or another illness.

Shock – Head shaking can be triggered by fear, excitement, or anxiety over unknown situations, or by physical shock.

Tremors – The tremors that occur as a result of certain medications, toxins, disease, or seizures are known as “tremor syndrome.” 

Why Do Dogs Shiver?

Just like humans, dogs sometimes shiver. As people, we tend to shiver when we are feeling cold, and the same may be true of your dog. Some breeds, especially terriers, are sensitive to extreme temperatures. 

Coldness can also be exacerbated by being wet, for example if you’ve been for a walk in the rain or your dog has been paddling in some water – he can’t just take off any wet clothing, and water stays on fur for a while. If you notice your dog shivering, try putting him in the sun or under a heater.

Shivering is an involuntary response to cold that involves the muscles tensing up and relaxing in quick succession, and this helps the body to heat up. Dogs that shiver because they’re cold tend to do so when temperatures drop outside. 

The reason for this is that the blood vessels along the surface of the skin dilate wider to allow heat loss through the skin faster. Unfortunately, this process makes the hair stand up straight on the dog’s body, making him seem colder.

A good trick to help your dog cope with the chilliest weather is to wrap them up in a warm blanket. He’ll feel warmer and more comfortable within the cocoon.

Another thing to keep in mind is that not all dogs will shiver once they become chilled; your dog may only shiver if he becomes very chilly. Depending on your dog, the shivering might alert you to the fact that he needs warming up immediately.

What Should I Do About It?

You won’t necessarily need to worry too much if the shaking isn’t accompanied by additional symptoms. Head shaking is such a common symptom of various underlying issues, and more often than not is an emotional response to something that is happening either in front of them or to them.

The time to act quickly is when the shaking becomes an involuntary response. They may not even be aware they’re doing it, and it may mean that they are no longer in control of their own movements.

Idiopathic Tremor Syndrome is one example of a chronic condition that your dog may be suffering from, so this is definitely something you should keep in mind.

Luckily, Idiopathic Tremor Syndrome is benign, so it won’t be harmful to your dog unless it is actually another condition that is disguising itself as Idiopathic Tremor Syndrome. Tremor episodes usually last for around 5 minutes, although some owners have reported ones that have lasted over an hour.

With Idiopathic Tremor Syndrome, your dog should stay alert throughout the duration of an episode and not experience any other involuntary signs such as defecation – otherwise it could be something more serious. 

Seizure disorders might be present if your dog starts rapidly shaking and experiences a loss of consciousness throughout the episode. This can be seen as a medical emergency, so call a vet immediately for these types of body tremors.

If your dog shakes its head frequently or for an extended period of time, you should seek medical attention. This could indicate a serious problem that requires immediate treatment.

Head shaking is usually harmless, but prolonged excessive head shaking can lead to nerve inflammation and permanent brain damage. A vet might suggest giving your dog medication if they feel that shaking is interfering with their ability to eat, drink, or sleep.

How Can I Help My Dog Stop Shaking His Head?

There are many things that can make your dog shake his head. You may want to visit the American Kennel Club website and look up the breed name of your dog to learn which types of conditions affect head shaking more often.

This may give you peace of mind or encourage you to go to the vets, and you’ll also know what to look out for next time.

Treatment depends upon what’s causing the head shaking. For more information about treatment options, please contact your local veterinary clinic. Even though your dog will stop shaking eventually, getting treatment early can prevent further damage.

After all, you don’t want to just ignore it and hope it will go away, only to find out when it’s too late that he actually has some kind of neurological disorder.

Sometimes, you can stop the shaking simply by adapting your dog’s routine to suit him better. For example, crate training may make your dog nervous. Crate training usually involves placing your dog in a small crate while you sleep. He can become agitated if he thinks that he cannot escape. 

To avoid this, open a window when you go to bed, so that he can still feel the air circulating around the room. Alternatively, come up with a solution that doesn’t involve the use of a crate at all, such as allowing him to wander free downstairs.

Another thing that helps dogs who shake their heads is a high protein diet. As you will know, dogs require large amounts of meat to eat so that they will feel satisfied and their bodies have the necessary fuel for them to live.

2-3 cups per day of a dog food brand that is rich in complex protein should be sufficient, and you may find they don’t shake as much once they start eating better. If your dog has been on a poor diet then he/she may benefit from increasing the amount of protein they get on a daily basis.

Final Thoughts

Head shaking, shivering and trembling in dogs may all be a common sign that something is wrong, or they could be completely harmless. In fact, they are all pretty much similar actions, so it may be difficult to know exactly which one you are seeing in your dog, if not a combination of more than one. 

Most of the time, your dog exhibiting these behaviors is not at risk of anything serious, whether it’s a responsive tremor or an involuntary one.

There are many causes of shaking, most of which are harmless reasons. If you are worried about your dog’s head shaking or trembling, there are diagnostic tests that can be run to rule out infectious diseases, such as liver disease or kidney disease. 

Generalized Tremor Syndrome and Idiopathic Tremor Syndrome may sound scary, but they are actually just names for benign conditions that include muscle tremors. Other causes of shaking and trembling may be anxiety and fear related issues. 

If you see shaking over the entire body and your dog losing consciousness or control of their bodily functions, you should seek expert care – these are clinical signs that there is something more serious at play. 

For example, they could have Inflammatory Brain Disease or some kind of neurologic disease. Pet owners should be aware that these situations are rare, and most of the time body tremors won’t have a major impact on your dog’s overall wellbeing, but it is often better to get them checked by a veterinarian for peace of mind. 

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Megan Turner
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