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Featuring Demian Dressler, DVM and Sue Ettinger, DVM, Dip. ACVIM (Oncology), authors of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide

Why Is My Dog Trembling and Shaking?

Updated: December 20th, 2021


If your dog is shaking, she is probably worried about something… but health problems can cause tremors too.

Many of us dog lovers get upset if our dog is shaking. Is she in pain? Is she afraid? Do I need to call my vet?

This symptom can be caused by a variety of emotional and physical states, but the good news is that cancer is not a common direct cause.

Little dogs in particular can be the most prone to shaking and quaking… and often it is not due to a medical reason.

Let’s dive into why your precious pup is trembling.

Why Is My Dog Shaking?

Many things can cause a dog to shake and tremble. Here are some of the most common potential causes:

  • Stress or anxiety
  • Cold
  • Pain
  • Neurological disorders
  • Electrolyte imbalance


This is one of the most common reasons for a dog to quiver. She might be afraid of a thunderstorm, or of your very tall neighbor who came over for dinner for the first time.

Dogs have much better smell and hearing than we do, and may start reacting to something upsetting before we even know it exists. Dogs have been known to pick up smoke detector beeps from several apartments over, or gunshots from a distant field.

She also might be anticipating something bad that has happened before.

For example, whenever my mom cooked pork chops when I was growing up, they always set off the smoke alarm just when they were perfectly cooked. Our dogs learned that the smell of pork chops meant the smoke alarm would go off, and started reacting to that smell before the alarm had even started.


Dogs shiver when they’re cold just like us.

Small dogs and dogs with short or thin haircoats will get cold much more quickly than large or super furry dogs. Most Malamutes and Huskies are happy as penguins out in a blizzard, but a Chihuahua or a 9-week-old puppy will probably start shivering about when we do.

If you think your dog might be cold, try turning the heat up a little bit or setting her up with a nice cozy sweater.


Dogs also may shake when they are in pain.

If your dog is painful, she will probably be hunched up with a tense body posture. She may be reluctant to socialize, or refuse food.

Neurological Disorders

Neurological disorders and nerve damage can also cause trembling.

In these cases, the shaking will often occur when your dog is in a specific position (such as sitting or turning to the left) or is trying to do a specific action (such as picking up a toy off the floor).

Some causes of neurological shaking include:

  • Trauma to a nerve – will usually cause shaking in a localized part of the body depending which muscles that nerve controls.
  • Brain or spinal cord tumor
  • Shaker Syndrome – tremors throughout the body that start around 1 or 2 years old, most common in small white dogs. Thought to be an autoimmune disorder.

Treatment will depend on the exact cause. Nerve damage is often treated with anti-inflammatory medications, rest, physical therapy, and laser treatments. Shaker Syndrome usually responds to the steroid prednisone.

Electrolyte Imbalance

Electrolyte imbalances can cause your dog’s cells to not work properly. In some cases this can cause tremors.

Vomiting is a common cause of electrolyte deficiencies, but not eating, an imbalanced diet, kidney disease, and diabetes are other potential causes.

Side effects from chemotherapy could potentially result in an electrolyte imbalance.

Your dog’s vet can check her electrolytes with a simple blood test, and can correct any deficiencies with fluids (given under the skin or intravenously) and medications if needed.

Know Your Dog

You know your dog best!

Consider the context when she is shaking.

  • Is something happening that might stress her out?
  • Could she be cold?
  • What does her body language look like?
  • Do the tremors happen in specific situations?
  • Has she been vomiting, not eating, or showing other symptoms of illness?

In many cases, the dog is simply worried about something that is or might happen. Removing the trigger will help her relax, or you can try something like a Thundershirt to help with situational anxiety.

But if things just don’t seem to add up or this is a new behavior for your dog, a vet visit might be in order.

Dr. Nancy Reese, DVM, PhD had some good information on how to tell why your dog is shaking during this interview with Dog Cancer Answers:

You can read the full transcript on the episode page.

Please subscribe to, rate, and review Dog Cancer Answers in Apple Podcast or on your favorite pod-catcher. It really does help the show!

Paws and wags,


PS: Feel free to share this article or the podcast itself with your veterinarian and their staff.

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Leave a Comment

  1. Sarwar Abdullah on December 28, 2022 at 7:45 pm

    In his sleep, my puppy begins to breathe heavily and shake/twitch. Is this a bad thing?

    • Kate Basedow, LVT on December 29, 2022 at 6:12 am

      Nope – sounds like your puppy is dreaming!

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