Dogs shiver and shake for a wide variety of reason. It can be anything from an emotional response to a situation to a physical response to a poison. It can be inconsequential or cause to call your veterinarian. The way to differentiate between them often starts with asking yourself questions. Start with the obvious.
How is the temperature? Just like you, your dog shivers when cold or chilled, especially after getting wet. If this is the case, it should either pass quickly as their body adapts or resolve itself when you move to a warmer venue.
What is happening at the moment? Dogs also shiver when frightened, excited or anxious. Hunting dogs on point often quiver because their excitement is so intense. Many dogs shake with anticipation when their owners proffer a favoured toy or treat. In the presence of an aggressive dog, some animals will shiver with anxiety and fear. Dogs that are frightened of lightning can shiver with extreme force. Be aware that
what your dog perceives as a threat may or may not be a real threat. For example, a dog that is known to beat yours up is a real threat while the vacuum isn’t usually. In cases of imagined threats, desensitization therapies may be beneficial depending on the severity of the phobia. In some cases medication may also be used to help calm the dog down enough for other therapies to be useful.
What else is your dog doing? Panting, favoring a limb or holding it up, whining and pacing are all signs of discomfort and pain. Your dog may have injured themselves. Pain and shock will cause shaking. Depending on the injury it may or may not require veterinary care. If the symptoms do not resolve themselves fairly quickly you should seek medical attention as there may be an internal injury as well.
Does your dog have other symptoms? Fever, nasal discharge, vomiting, diarrhea and other signs of an infection could point to an illness as being the cause of the tremors. Fever in particular can lead to shivering. Dogs exhibiting any of these symptoms should be seen by a veterinarian as soon as possible. Although dogs get mild viruses just like people, some can also be more serious and require treatment to avoid complications such as dehydration and pneumonia.
Epileptic dogs often have tremors both before and after grand mal seizures. They are caused in part by smaller seizures that tend to precede and follow the larger grand mal ones. If your dog is known to be epileptic, this may be an important signal that your dog is about to seize. If your dog has seizures you should be working with a veterinarian to get them under control. Depending on the severity, this may involve medication, changes in diet, and other therapies.
Shivering can also be the result of poisoning. Other symptoms of poisoning can include seizures, vomiting, diarrhea, drooling, lethargy, excessive drinking or urination, uremic smelling breath, bloody stools, and pale gums. Unfortunately the range in symptoms is huge as much depends on the type of poison ingested. If you have any suspicions of poisoning or your dog exhibits any sign of illness it is always worth checking with your veterinarian. With poison, time is essential in terms of treatment. Some effects can be reversed if caught soon enough but may become fatal if left untreated.
Old dogs, like old people, can also develop tremors. Most often they are in the limbs but they can occur in any part of the body. Because this may be a sign of an underlying condition that requires treatment you should have them seen by a vet to rule out any potential issues.
When all these factors have been eliminated, you may be left with a diagnosis of generalized tremor syndrome (GTS). Your veterinarian will likely run many tests including blood work to eliminate other potential illnesses. GTS is most commonly associated with small white dogs such as Maltese and West Highland White Terriers which is there the disease’s nickname, White Shaker Syndrome, came from. However, it can occur in any dog regardless of size or colour. It usually shows up between 9 month and 2 years of age. It can be the result of chronic or congenital illnesses (often milder forms of central nervous system diseases) or it can be idiopathic, which means the cause is unknown. It is an inflammation of the cerebellum and is generally treated with steroids. While a short course of medicine is sometimes sufficient, other dogs may require multiple courses or ongoing treatment for the rest of their lives to keep symptoms under control.
Shivering, shaking and tremors can be caused a large number of things both benign and potentially dangerous. It is important to examine the situation and pay attention to any accompanying symptoms or behaviors to evaluate whether or not your dog needs to be seen by a veterinarian.