Dogs can tremble for physiological reasons, such as being too cold or not having eaten for a period of time. However, there are other causes that can sometimes be more challenging to discover, so consequently, the treatment might be a little more complicated, too.
Read on to find out everything you should know about tremor in dogs – from the difference between them and seizures to how they can be treated or prevented.
Causes of tremors in dogs
As previously mentioned, some of the causes that can lead to a dog trembling or shaking can be perfectly normal. Some pets are more nervous than others, which is why their owners might want to avoid putting them in situations that can lead to anxiety.
Emotions such as excitement, stress, or even joy, can cause a dog to experience light tremors. This can be seen in dogs that get to meet their owners after a period of time, for example. Another instance where it can happen is with puppies – and they might not just tremble but also pee a little because they are so excited.
Tremors can also be caused by physical discomfort. Being too cold, especially in the winter, can make a dog shake until they are warmed up. Having a fever can also lead to tremors, and so can digestive distress such as nausea or having lost body fluids due to diarrhea, for example.
In terms of medical issues, some of the most common causes of tremors in dogs range from having ingested poison or a toxin to having developed an infectious disease (distemper is an example, especially since one of its forms can also involve the nervous system). In some cases, tremors can also be caused by metabolic conditions or autoimmune diseases.
Believe it or not, some dog breeds have a higher likelihood of experiencing tremors simply because they are categorized as ‘shaker dogs.’ Here are a few examples:
- Labrador Retrievers
- English Bulldogs
- Doberman Pinschers
The difference between tremors and seizures
While both of these are involuntary, their clinical manifestations are quite different. When a dog is trembling for any of the causes that we have mentioned, they remain conscious. Most of the tremors are localized, meaning that they affect specific parts of their bodies, such as the legs or the neck and head.
Seizures are much more spectacular in terms of the symptoms that they cause. While the signs can vary from one animal to the next, some of the most common ones are the following:
- Foaming at the mouth
- Behavior changes
- Involuntary urination
- Loss of consciousness
- Loss of balance (the dog might fall on the floor and keep shaking)
Knowing how to make the difference between tremors and seizures can lead to you saving your dog’s life. Whenever something like this happens, you should try to either record your dog’s behavior or retain most of the information related to the clinical signs – so that you can communicate them to your vet.
How are tremors in dogs diagnosed?
A complete examination, along with a neurologic exam, are necessary when diagnosing an animal’s tremors and most importantly, their causes. When you take your dog to the animal hospital, the vet will perform a physical exam and then perform some basic tests such as a complete blood count and biochemistry.
Some of the diagnostic tests can be more advanced, such as a cerebrospinal fluid analysis or MRI.
Needless to say, your pet will also be tested for any infectious diseases. If you want your dog to stay healthy, make sure that you stick to your veterinarian’s recommendations in terms of mandatory vaccines.
If no cause is discovered, the patient might be suffering from so-called Shaker Syndrome, also known as idiopathic tremor syndrome. This condition affects some dogs more commonly than others, mainly the Poodle or the West Highland Terrier.
Can they be treated?
It all depends on what the cause of the tremors is. For most of the factors that we have previously mentioned, there are specific treatments that your vet can prescribe. Their effect happens in a timely manner, and you will also be instructed on how you should administer the medication to your dog.
Unfortunately, there is no therapy available for Shaker Syndrome at the time we’re writing this article. The condition tends to affect dogs that have had their 2-year birthday. As they age, the tremors might become more severe.
The only remedy that is available for the clinical manifestations consists of steroids, as they decrease the inflammation that might exist in one or more portions of the nervous system.
Patients that are diagnosed with infectious diseases will receive symptomatic treatment, but depending on their age and health status, they might take very long to recover and may need to be hospitalized, or they might lose their life altogether.
Can you prevent your dog from having tremors?
To some extent, yes.
If your dog experiences tremors because of natural causes, you can avoid situations that can lead to them happening. For example, you can limit the time you spend outdoors with your pooch when the weather is very cold or even use some pee pads instead and allow them to ‘go to the bathroom’ in the house.
For dogs that are very anxious, you can ask your veterinarian for a mild (and safe) sedative that you can give your pet before their consultation. If you are planning a move, try to make the transition as smooth as possible for your canine friend.
Some dogs do not do well with sudden changes and can experience extreme nervousness – tremors might be the least of your concerns in this case. It’s not uncommon for pets to change their behaviors for a period of time if they feel unsafe.
Generalized Tremors: Identifying a White Shaker Dog, Kelly Smith, Purdue Spring 2004 Newsletter https://www.addl.purdue.edu/newsletters/2004/spring/tremors.htm
Classification of involuntary movements in dogs: Tremors and twitches, Mark Lowrie et al, 2016 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27387736/