Why Do Dogs Shake? 6 Reasons for Shaking, Trembling & Shivering

Shaking off can be normal - but it may also be a sign of a health issue.

By Megan Kriss | Dog Behaviour

A guide to the reasons dogs shake

Does your dog tremble, shiver or shake? Here are six of the most common reasons for shaking – and what to do about them.

A dog that’s described as “shaking” can be displaying several different types of behavior.

There’s the classic “shake off” when a dog is drying their coat (see the picture above), which is an instinctive behavior to dry the coat or relieve stress. A dog that’s shivering or trembling may also be described as shaking, but these could be symptoms of a more serious issue.

Whatever the cause, shaking can be worrying for new and experienced pet owners alike. Here are six of the most common reasons for this behavior – along with tips for when to contact a vet.

Visiting a Vet
If you notice your dog starts to shake, tremble or shiver, you should always contact your vet immediately. These behaviors can be a symptom of serious conditions, such as kidney disease and cancer, or injury, so your dog should be examined by a medical professional.

1. To Dry Their Coat

The most common reason for a dog shaking off is to dry his coat. And, despite how you may feel about your pet shaking off in your home, it’s really very effective.

A dog can shake up to 70% of the water out of their fur, which is more efficient than towel drying. Check out the video below if you need more proof:

Dogs also use this technique to shake off something stuck in their fur. If you see them shaking when dry, check for a burr or anything else sticky in their fur.

Note: There’s a big difference between the full body shake of your dog shaking water off, and the shivering or trembling that can indicate a more serious issue. If you’re not sure whether your dog is shaking off or trembling, contact a vet to be safe.

2. To Relieve Stress

The second most common cause of shaking in dogs is stress or nerves.

When a dog has encountered a stressful situation, they’ll often give a big shake off as a way to relieve tension and “reset.” This behavior, which is sometimes called an adrenaline flush, serves a similar purpose to humans taking a deep breath to calm their nerves.

While this type of shaking isn’t necessarily something to worry about, it’s important to address sources of stress in your dog’s life. Try to look for stress triggers, such as being crowded, hugged or loud noises. A dog that shakes off after being stroked, for example, may have found the interaction stressful.

Again, there is a big difference between shaking off and continuously trembling. If your pet is frequently shivering due to anxiety, this is more serious and should be discussed with your vet.

He or she may recommend one of the many anxiety medicines that are available for your furry friend. These mood stabilizers should be used as a last resort, but can help bring your dog down from their state of heightened alertness and fear.

3. Because of Pain

A more serious cause of trembling is pain from injury or illness. This is a stress response that’s similar to nerves, but has a more direct cause that you’ll need to address with your vet as soon as possible.

Pain in dogs has a variety of causes. It could be due to an acute injury, especially if your pet is moving slowly or awkwardly. Diseases, such as arthritis and distemper, can also cause ongoing pain. If you suspect your pet is in pain, you should always contact a vet to discuss potential treatments.

4. Because of the Cold

A dog running in the snow

One of the most intuitive causes of shaking is a cold environment. Dogs can’t sweat to disperse heat, but they do shiver from the cold just like humans do. This is more common in short-haired breeds (such as Greyhounds), senior dogs and puppies, but can happen to any dog.

It’s rare for a healthy dog to get cold enough indoors to shiver, so if you notice your pet shivering it’s probably time to turn up the heating. You may also want to try a heated dog bed.

Shivering outdoors is more common, especially if your dog’s coat gets wet, which is why dog jumpers can be vital during the winter months.

While shaking due to cold is often easy to solve, it may also be a sign of a more serious endocrine issue, which we’ll discuss below.

5. Because of a Neurological or Endocrinological Issue

There are a number of neurological or endocrinological issues that may cause shaking in dogs.

Epilepsy is an issue that affects both humans and dogs, and can cause symptoms such as muscle twitching, shaking or jerking. There are also diseases like Addison’s that lower adrenal output, which in turn causes a variety of symptoms such as muscle twitches, lethargy, depression, low blood pressure, and dehydration/excessive urination.

Other neurological issues can develop as your dog ages, particularly in larger dog breeds. You may see tremors or twitches in your dog’s limbs or facial muscles, which can be caused by the degradation of the nervous system, or something more serious like a tumor or spinal injury.

If your dog is shaking or trembling as he gets older, don’t dismiss it as a natural and unavoidable sign of aging. While this could be the case, your dog should be thoroughly examined by a vet to find the underlying cause.

6. Because of an Ear Infection (Head Shaking)

One of the tell-tale signs of a canine ear infection, apart from pawing at the ears, is shaking of the head. This often looks like your dog is trying to shake something out of the ear, rather than the full body shake associated with stress.

While a bacterial infection is a common cause of head shaking, it’s not the only possibility. Your dog may react similarly if there is debris stuck in the ear, or even if there is a growth within the ear canal. For this reason, you should contact your vet if you notice your dog head shaking.

Other Potential Causes of Shaking

  • Generalized Tremor Syndrome. This is a condition that was first seen in white, small dogs, but has since been shown to occur in any dog. It causes chronic trembling, but can usually be treated with corticosteroids.
  • Excitement. Some dogs get so excited that they start to shake from the adrenaline. This is more common in puppies, but some dogs never grow out of this behavior.
  • Fear. Just like dogs shake when they get excited, the adrenaline associated with fear can also cause short-term trembling.
  • Nausea. Dogs can feel nauseous for a variety of reasons, including illness, eating toxic food or motion sickness. Nausea can sometimes cause shaking, along with other symptoms such as vomiting, lack of appetite and lip smacking.
  • Kidney Failure. A serious potential cause of shaking is chronic kidney failure. This can cause a variety of symptoms, such as weakness and excessive drinking. It’s a relatively uncommon condition, but is sometimes a side-effect of other diseases, such as cancer.

Summary

There are many reason why your dog could be shaking. While shaking off to relieve stress or dry their coat is normal behavior for a dog, trembling or shivering can be a sign of something more sinister.

For this reason, you should always take your dog for a vet check-up if you notice he is shaking more than usual.

Do you have any questions about your dog shaking? Let us know in the comments below – although for medical questions you should always contact a vet.

About the Author

Megan Kriss has been a writer and editor for about five years and a lover of dogs for her whole life. She lives in Georgia with her Border Collie and Chow Chow mix, Ginger, her two cats, Pepper and Misha, and her fiance, Matthew.