When it comes to communication, dogs are significantly better at interpreting our body language than we are theirs. Humans rely on verbal language more heavily than body language, whereas dogs are just the opposite.
Unfortunately, this often means we are left scratching our heads, wondering what our dogs are trying to tell us. Shaking is one of these potentially confusing behaviors.
To Dry Off
You may have wondered why dogs feel the need to shake when they are wet. That shaking, however, is surprisingly efficient. Wet dogs can shake off 70 percent of the water on their fur in just four seconds. That is far more effective than attempts to towel dry our pups — though not as great for our bathrooms.
Stress and Anxiety
Dry dogs shake, too. If your dog gives a whole-body shake for no obvious reason, like a bath or a good roll in the dirt, it could be stress related. Shaking is a classic symptom of stress in dogs. When your dog shakes after hopping off an examination table at the veterinarian’s office or following an encounter with a stranger, he is trying to relieve tension.
Shivering and trembling are also used interchangeably with shaking to describe upset pups. Certain toy and small terrier breeds shiver more than others. This kind of shivering can be a sign of pain. When your dog is nauseous, she may also shake. If your dog has started to shake, and you don’t know why, contact your veterinarian to make sure there isn’t a more serious issue to contend with.
All dog breeds get ear infections. Owners of breeds that are more prone to ear infections, however, such as Cocker Spaniels, Basset Hounds, Labrador Retrievers, and Golden Retrievers, should watch out for excessive head shaking. If your dog had a recent bath or a swim and is shaking his head, it’s quite possible that he’s suffering from an ear infection. This shaking can lead to more problems, for example an ear hematoma (when blood accumulates in the flap of the ear). Owners should always dry their dogs’ ears thoroughly after they’ve been in water. If your dog is shaking his head more than normal, gently check your canine companion’s ears to see if they appear red, inflamed, or dirty or have a funky smell and call the veterinarian.
If your dog gets hold of some chocolate, cigarette butts, or one of the many human products that contain xylitol such as sugar-free gum, these items are very toxic to dogs and may cause trembling, seizures, vomiting, diarrhea, and may be fatal. Call your vet or the Pet Poison Helpline immediately if you suspect your dog ingested one of these items.
Low Blood Sugar
Shaking can be a sign of a sudden change in blood chemistry. “Low blood sugar or hypoglycemia can cause shaking,” according to Dr. Jerry Klein, AKC chief veterinary officer. Toy and small-breed dogs and young puppies are most susceptible to this condition. Keeping your dog on a well-balanced diet and feeding on a routine schedule can help prevent hypoglycemia. However, sometimes shaking is an indication of another underlying condition that should be diagnosed and treated by your dog’s veterinarian.
Canine distemper is a virus that may cause shaking and trembling in dogs. Unvaccinated dogs and puppies are most at risk. The virus must run its course and is very contagious, so the infected dog should be separated from other dogs. The veterinarian will treat the symptoms, may prescribe antibiotics to prevent secondary infections, and will suggest keeping the dog hydrated to prevent dehydration.
After an outing and a quick swim on a chilly day, my 13-year-old dog shook for several hours. The veterinarian said this was probably because my old dog’s body was no longer able to regulate his temperature effectively. Warming him up with blankets stopped the shaking. Senior dogs sometimes also develop tremors in their legs, especially the hind ones, as they lose muscle mass.
Generalized Tremor Syndrome (GTS)
GTS is also called corticosteroid responsive tremor syndrome or white dog shaker syndrome. Although this condition that manifests as full-body shaking was first noticed in small white dogs, it has been seen in all colors and sizes of dogs. The cause of this syndrome is unknown. The veterinarian usually prescribes corticosteroids like prednisone.
If we see our dog violently shaking, we may fear he’s having a seizure. “Seizures can appear as uncontrollable shaking for several minutes, but they also manifest in other ways – muscle contractions, jerking movements, collapse, and brief loss of consciousness,” says Dr. Klein. If you suspect your dog had a seizure, always notify the vet. There are a variety of causes, the most common of which is idiopathic epilepsy, which is usually treated with anticonvulsant medication.
Every time I open the door to the backyard and tell my dog to “wait,” she trembles in anticipation of running outside. When she sits at the front door and watches for my daughter she trembles. And when we’re out walking and she sees my neighbors, she trembles until I tell her to “go say hi.” Sometimes, shaking can simply be a sign of happy excitement in a dog and will resolve when she is given access to the object of that excitement.