Aside from panting, one of the biggest concerns an owner might mention is that their dog is shaking. For the veterinarian, it’s important to know are the tremors continuous, episodic, repeatable, whole body, just one region and so on.
Finding the reason behind tremors is tricky as tremoring occurs for many reasons.
The first step is to consider normal reasons for shivering, such as, is the animal:
- Have a fever
- asleep and dreaming.
These can all be taken off the table by offering a blanket or sweater, addressing anxiety, making sure pain and fever are not playing a role.
Additionally, older dogs or dogs with orthopedic issues can have muscle atrophy and weakness that leads to tremoring. This type of tremoring is easy to see as it will occur when the dog is moving around or standing and abate when the animal is at rest. Medication to help with pain and stiffness provided by your veterinarian may help reduce the shaking.
So What Characterizes a Disease?
Mild trembling is often just that, mild and usually isn’t a big cause for concern. Severe tremors or spasms are more worrisome and may represent a neuromuscular, endocrine or neurologic disease.
Where the tremor occurs can help narrow the list down. When only certain parts tremor there are some neuromuscular diseases to consider.
Diseases involving the cerebellum of the brain will lead to tremors when the patient directs attention to a task. In these cases, the cerebellum oversees fine motor control and when affected leads toward intention (or focused toward a task tremors). For instance, an individual may sit quietly without tremors but if reaching for a toy or going toward a bowl of food, tremors of the neck and head are seen.
The are congenital disorders that will not progress that show these signs, and there are diseases that will progress over time. The age of the animal should be assessed by your veterinarian and will likely come with a recommendation for bloodwork and potentially a referral to aveterinary neurologist.
Idiopathic Head Tremors
No one really knows why this occurs but some dogs have episodes of head bobbing (usually up and down but can be side to side). Breeds that seem over-represented are Boxers, English bulldogs, beagles, and Doberman pinschers. This condition does not respond to anti-seizure medications and the best way to stop an episode is to get the dog to focus on something like a toy or treat. Episodes tend to get milder with age.
Dogs that survive a canine distemper infection may suffer from seizures, paralysis or muscle twitching long term. There is not much to make these tremors resolve, but once the virus is done, the symptoms don’t get any worse. Of all the treatments tried, there has been some reported success with injections of cosmetic Botox®. The biggest barrier to this is cost.
Whole Body Tremors
If the entire dog is, we start looking at diseases involve the entire dog’s nervous system including the nutrients that help control the nervous system such as calcium, electrolytes, blood sugar.
- Hypocalcemia (low blood calcium, especially if nursing puppies)
- Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)
- “Shaky White Dog syndrome” (which does not actually require that the patient be a white dog), also called non-suppurative meningoencephalomyelitis.
Problems with whole body tremors not involving nutrients:
- Toxins (especially snail bait and insecticides)
- Chocolate or caffeine ingestion
- Infectious causes such as Tetanus
Severe tremoring can elevate the body temperature dangerously high and cause brain damage just the way heat stroke can.
If your dog is violently shaking for any extended period, it should be seen by a veterinarian so the dog can be appropriately managed and stabilized.
Many toxins can cause twitches and involuntary muscle tremors, so it is important to let your veterinarian know what products are in your home as well as insecticides that may have been used outside or for gardening.
Your veterinarian will be your partner in figuring out if this is something that he or she can figure out in their hospital or clinic. For cases that require advanced imaging such as an MRI or CT, a referral to a neurologist may be the best option.
Urban Animal Veterinary Hospital
1327 Yale St
Houston, TX 77008