Puppy Shaking – Causes, Prevention, Solutions & FAQs

puppy shaking

Watching your puppy shaking is worrying for any pet parent to witness. Most causes of puppy shaking are caused by intense emotions like excitement and nervousness.

However, some cases of a shaking puppy are caused by neurological conditions like Shaking Puppy Syndrome and White Dog Shaker Syndrome. To find some possible reasons for puppy shaking, read on, and be sure to consult your vet if you suspect something is wrong.

Possible Reasons Why a Puppy Is Shaking and Trembling

Puppy trembling is caused by many different situations and conditions – excitement, pain, and nausea are among the most common causes. Shivering can be a sign of something more serious, however. Poisoning, kidney disease, and even neurological problems frequently cause puppies to shake. If your puppy suddenly starts shaking alongside showing other symptoms, talk to your vet right away.

Cold Weather

Puppies who have been in the cold for an extended period of time might suffer from hypothermia. Mild hypothermia occurs when your pup’s body temperature falls between 99F and 90F. If your puppy has mild hypothermia they can be treated at home. Bring your pup inside, dry them off, and get them someplace warm. Moderate hypothermia involves temperatures between 90F and 82F. If your pup has moderate hypothermia, they will take longer to recover. Heat a towel or blanket in a clothes dryer and wrap it around your puppy. Severe hypothermia involves temperatures below 82F.

Severe hypothermia is a medical emergency. Your puppy might fall unconscious, become unable to shiver, and have an alarmingly slow heart rate. If this sounds like your puppy, seek emergency veterinary care. You will need to dry your puppy and wrap them in warm blankets during the car ride. Your vet will carefully re-warm your puppy by giving warm intravenous fluids, oxygen, and supportive heat therapy. Most dogs recover well from hypothermia, especially with veterinary treatment.

White Dog Shaker Syndrome

White Shaker Syndrome (WSS) is a neurologic disease seen most commonly in dogs with white coats. WSS is most common in West Highland White Terriers, Maltese Terriers, and Samoyeds. The disease emerges by the time the affected dog is 5 months to 3 years old. Affected shaking puppies exhibit unintentional and rhythmic muscle movements known as tremors. If severe, these tremors can affect your puppy’s gait, causing a wobbly walk or overreaching with the legs. Uncontrolled eye movements and convulsions can also be seen. Overall, the tremors are exaggerated by high levels of stress, excitement, and handling.

White Shaker Syndrome is associated with mild inflammation of the nervous system. Your dog’s cerebellum, which is responsible for fine control of movements, might also be affected. Apart from these findings, the cause of WSS is not clear yet. Early diagnosis is beneficial for treating affected puppies. Your vet may prescribe immunosuppressive levels of corticosteroids or even diazepam (Valium) to diminish anxiety. In some cases, your puppy might need to remain on a low dose of corticosteroids for the rest of their life.

Canine Distemper

canine distemper in puppies
Puppies need the full series of canine distemper vaccines.

Canine distemper is a viral disease. Puppies from three to six months old are particularly vulnerable to catching distemper. Caused by a single-stranded RNA virus, canine distemper affects several body systems in puppies. It attacks the gastrointestinal and respiratory tracts, the spinal cord, and even the brain. As a result, symptoms of this disease include a runny nose, high fever, eye inflammation, labored breathing, vomiting, and lethargy. CNS signs include twitching of the muscles, seizures, chewing fits, and circling. As the condition progresses the seizures advance into grand mal convulsions. Puppies who survive this virus usually go on to have a small twitch or tic.

Your puppies should begin receiving distemper vaccinations from six to eight weeks of age. Then, puppies must receive a booster shot every two to four weeks until they are 16 weeks old. Without the full series of vaccines, the distemper vaccination is ineffective. As well as giving vaccinations, you can also help to prevent distemper by keeping the environment clean. The distemper virus is destroyed in the environment through routine cleaning with disinfectants and detergents. It also can’t survive for more than a few hours at room temperature, preferring shady and cool environments.

Shaking Puppy Syndrome

Hypomyelination is more commonly known as Shaking Puppy Syndrome (SPS). SPS is an inherited defect that causes delayed myelination of the nerves. Myelin is a substance that coats nerve cells. It’s essential for fine muscle control. At birth, puppies with SPS appear normal. The disease usually manifests by the time puppies are one to two weeks old. Puppies with SPS exhibit tremors especially in the hind limbs. In more severe cases, affected puppies have difficulty nursing due to their tremors.

Diagnosis involves ruling out every other possible explanation. This might involve a CT scan, electromyography, an MRI, or myelography. The only way to truly confirm SPS is to microscopically examine the spinal cord of the puppy after death if it occurs. There is no specific treatment for SPS. Luckily, most puppies with SPS eventually recover by the time they reach one year old. In milder cases, puppies can recover by the age of three or four months. Despite the recovery, most puppies with SPS will have mild hind leg tremors for the rest of their lives.

Poisoning

Many household items are toxic to puppies. Raisins and grapes, bleach, insecticides, rat poison, prescription antidepressants, and antifreeze. Several toxins will cause tremors and shaking in puppies when ingested. As well as this, puppies might vomit, have acute diarrhea, and appear visibly distressed and uncoordinated. Your puppy’s heart rate can increase. In extreme cases your puppy has seizures.

If you suspect that your puppy has ingested a toxic substance you need to act fast. Firstly, prevent your puppy from eating any more of the toxin. You will need to phone your vet right away to book an emergency appointment. Gather up packaging from the poison if possible and drive your puppy to the vet. Even if the substance is illegal or questionable, be honest with your vet. Your vet is here to help your dog and your honesty can save their life.

Nausea

Before vomiting, some puppies will become anxious and might shake as a result. If your puppy is vomiting and shaking due to an emotional upset, they will need time to calm down and settle. Your puppy might also be nauseous and shaky due to motion sickness, certain medications, liver disease, and kidney disease. Other signs that your puppy feels nauseous include lip-smacking, swallowing, yawning, and salivating. Nauseous puppies almost always vomit after showing these signs.

nausea in puppies
Nausea can cause shaking in puppies.

Treatment for puppy nausea depends on the cause. If you can’t find the cause at home, it’s best to take your puppy to the vet to diagnose any underlying health issues. If your puppy has eaten something toxic, call the Animal Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435 or your vet right away. Conversely, nausea can also be brought on by sudden dietary changes or an upset tummy. This includes feeding table scraps.

Wobblers Syndrome

Wobblers Syndrome (spondylolisthesis) affects puppies and adult dogs alike. The spinal cord becomes compressed due to the narrowing of the vertebral canal, or due to a ruptured disc in your puppy’s neck. This causes the vertebrae to become malformed. Puppies with this syndrome develop an unsteady gait, loss of bladder control, and exhibit chronic pain and weakness in their hind legs.

In less severe cases, Wobbler Syndrome is manageable with drugs rather than surgery. Management consists of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, physiotherapy, and pain relief. About 25 percent of medically treated dogs remain stable. Surgical treatment involves fusing the unstable segments of the spine. Even with surgery, 20 percent of affected dogs and puppies have a recurrence.

Happiness/Excitement

Most dogs shiver when they feel happiness or excitement. This is because strong emotions cause a surge of adrenaline in the body. Adrenaline triggers an animal’s fight or flight response. This helps the body to react quicker. The heart beats faster, blood flow to the brain increases, and the ability to feel pain even decreases. Your dog might experience this reaction when they are excited to see you or in anticipation of going for a walk. This reaction is most commonly seen in younger dogs with less impulse control.

Your puppy’s extreme excitement upon your arrival home might reflect an anxiety disorder. If your puppy is destructive when you leave, can’t bear to be away from you, and reacts strongly when you come home, they might be struggling with separation anxiety. Some cases of canine anxiety can be treated through training.

In mild cases, counterconditioning can help your puppy to associate a negative situation with something positive. This might involve offering high-value foods and toys that are only given when you leave. Moderate to severe cases require a more complex training program. This involves accustoming your puppy to being alone through many short separations, gradually increasing the duration over many weeks. Desensitization is a lengthy and complicated process. For help designing this plan, consult a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist or a veterinary behaviorist.

Seizures

Epilepsy is a condition that causes repeated seizures. Seizures occur when abnormal electrical activity occurs in the brain. Focal seizures occur in one half of the brain. They cause facial twitches, head shaking, dilated pupils, and unexplainable fearful behaviors. Generalized seizures, on the other hand, involve both sides of the brain. These seizures may be tonic, clonic, tonic-clonic, or myoclonic. In most generalized seizures, your puppy loses consciousness and involuntary motor movement occurs in the whole body. Not all seizures involve puppy shaking. Your puppy can also have non-convulsive atonic seizures, also called drop attacks. These result in a sudden loss of muscle tone which causes the puppy to collapse.

If your puppy has a seizure you must stay calm. Most seizures are brief and your puppy will likely be totally unaware of their fits. Move furniture out of the way to prevent injury to your pet. Under no circumstances should you place any objects in your puppy’s mouth, including your hands. If you can, note the length of the seizure and record the symptoms to show your vet. Your vet may prescribe antiepileptic drug (AED) therapy for the rest of your puppy’s life. These drugs include phenobarbital, potassium bromide, levetiracetam, and zonisamide. While AED may not completely stop your puppy’s seizures, most owners find that their puppy’s seizures are reduced by 50 percent.

Kidney Failure

If your puppy has kidney failure it means that their kidneys have stopped working correctly. Kidney failure is caused by dehydration, illness, infection, or ingestion of toxins. If your puppy is experiencing kidney failure, they might urinate more often, drink more often, vomit and be nauseous, be lethargic, lose weight, and develop mouth ulcers. Chronic kidney failure can also cause tremors, muscle twitches, or even seizures. These symptoms develop when minerals build up in the blood.

kidney failure in puppies
Look out for kidney failure symptoms in puppies.

Treatment depends on your puppy’s condition. In acute kidney failure cases, the kidneys might need dialysis. Dialysis is a medical procedure to remove waste products from the blood. On the other hand, chronic kidney failure is managed primarily through changes in diet, various medications, and fluid therapy. Unfortunately, chronic kidney disease is irreversible and progresses over time.

Full Anal Sacs

In normal circumstances, your puppy’s anal glands would be expressed every time they go to the toilet. Your puppy’s feces should be firm enough to express the anal glands. If your puppy is unable to express their anal glands they can become impacted and even infected. Common signs of anal gland impaction include shivering, reluctance to walk, scooting on the floor, and licking the backside. Your puppy might struggle to go to the toilet.

Impacted anal glands must be treated by expressing them. If you are not confident doing this at home, your vet or an experienced groomer can express your puppy’s anal glands for you. Some puppies never need anal gland expression. In contrast, others need them to be expressed every few months.

There are two ways to express the glands: internally and externally. In short, expressing your dog’s anal glands internally involves putting your finger into your dog’s anus. You will need to wear gloves and lubricate your finger to reduce the discomfort to your pet. Place your thumb on the outside of your puppy’s anus as you locate the anal glands. Once you’ve located them, apply a light amount of pressure to empty the trapped fluid. External expression involves squeezing the anal area from the outside to massage out the anal gland fluid. While this method is less invasive, it’s less effective at completely emptying the fluid.

Addison's Disease

Addison’s disease is also known as hypoadrenocorticism. It’s brought on by the destruction of the adrenal gland tissues. The adrenal glands are a pair of glands located next to the kidneys. These are important for regulating cortisol, a stress hormone, and aldosterone, a hormone for regulating sodium and potassium. Clinical signs of Addison’s disease can be non-specific. Addisonian patients might exhibit lethargy, diarrhea, vomiting, and unexplained weight loss. In addition, puppies with Addison’s disease can also present with hypoglycemia, an irregular heart rate, and hyperpigmentation of the skin. Shaking episodes are also seen.

Sometimes Addisonian patient puppies rapidly decline in episodes known as an Addisonian crisis. In these episodes, your puppy might suddenly become weak, vomit profusely, and collapse in shock. This is a medical emergency.

Treatment is ongoing for your puppy’s whole life. Your puppy must receive a replacement hormone medication. These might include an injectable mineralocorticoid given monthly and a steroid given daily. Unfortunately, Addison’s disease is not curable. Over time, their dosages will need altering to match your puppy’s needs, so be sure to book blood tests with your vet annually or biannually.

reasons for puppy shaking
There are many possible reasons why your pup is shaking.

Puppy Shaking – FAQs

Do you still have questions about your puppy shaking? Why not browse our Frequently Asked Questions section for more details? If in doubt, always ask your vet for advice.

Why is my puppy shaking and trembling?

Puppy shaking occurs for several different reasons. Many of these reasons are easily remediable or are not harmful to your puppy. For example, shaking due to cold weather subsides once your puppy warms up. If your puppy feels nauseous, they might shake in anticipation or due to anxiety before and after vomiting. Many puppies shake due to happiness and excitement. In this case, your puppy stops shaking once they are calm again. Similarly, puppies shake out of anxiety and stress, and once the stressor is removed they often stop shaking.

At the same time, there are several diseases that cause puppy shaking. White Shaker Syndrome, for example, is a neurological disease in puppies over five months old. Affected puppies exhibit tremors, a wobbly gait, and uncontrolled eye movements. Shaking Puppy Syndrome manifests in one to two-week old puppies. It causes severe tremors in the hind legs and most puppies recover in adulthood. Wobblers Syndrome causes shaking, weakness, and chronic pain in the hind legs. This syndrome is manageable medically or surgically depending on the severity of the condition. In contrast to normal shaking, puppies with neurological diseases might show more severe symptoms for the rest of their lives.

Why do puppies twitch in their sleep?

If you see your puppy shake in their sleep, the most likely cause is a simple one – dreaming! Like people, puppies will dream and might shiver, twitch, or vocalize in their sleep. Small dogs and puppies experience short periods of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. These occur every ten minutes. It’s during these REM periods that your pup is most likely to shake, shiver and vocalize. Puppies need 15 to 20 hours of sleep per day in a comfy, warm bed. If you’re worried your pup is shivering from cold, you can give them a blanket to snuggle whilst they sleep.

REM sleep behavior disorder may occur in dogs as well as people. Dogs and puppies with this disorder act out physical actions whilst deep in sleep. Clinical signs include violent limb movements, barking, growing, biting, and shaking. These episodes occur both during daytime naps and during sleep at night. If your puppy frequently acts out during sleep, consider asking your vet for advice on how to manage their behavior.

Is it normal for puppies to shake?

In some circumstances, it is normal for puppies to shake. However, this depends entirely on the context of your puppy’s shaking. For example, it’s normal for some puppies to shake when nervous, excited, or stressed. Puppies are also susceptible to the cold. This is most apparent in the smallest breeds, such as Chihuahuas. Chihuahuas naturally have very high metabolisms and are not adept at managing their own body temperatures. This makes them feel cold easily. As well as this, it might be normal for your puppy to shake whenever they feel nauseous. Your puppy might even shake in their sleep as they dream.

In contrast, it is not normal for your puppy to shake alongside other symptoms. Your puppy should also not shake for long periods of time for no apparent reason. A puppy shaking for no identifiable reason might have a health issue or even an anxiety disorder that a vet can help them with.

When should a trembling puppy go to the vet?

If your puppy has diarrhea, vomits, walks with an uncoordinated gait, loses bladder control, or is in pain, seek veterinary attention immediately. Puppy shaking should not affect the pup’s ability to nurse, eat puppy food, play, or walk normally. As well as this, shaking alongside other symptoms should not be taken lightly. Shaking is a symptom of several different disorders and testing will be needed to effectively diagnose your pup’s condition.

In order to diagnose your pup, the vet will need to fully examine them. This might include bloodwork to rule out certain illnesses, a CT scan, electromyography, or an MRI. Your vet might ask you about your puppy’s behavior to check if they are struggling with an anxiety disorder. Overall, the diagnosis might involve more than one trip to the vet to completely rule out any other conditions.

Puppy shaking is concerning for any owner. If your puppy is shaking due to stress, excitement, or happiness, their reaction is normal and nothing to worry about. However, if your puppy shakes alongside showing other signs of illness, it’s best to take them to the vet right away.

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