A trembling pup can be caused by a few different things.

By Melissa Locker
March 02, 2020

Whether he’s supposed to or not, my dog likes to sit next to me on the couch. Sometimes he jumps up and is shaking like he just walked into the vet’s office.

When we’re at the vet, it makes sense. He knows where we are and what he might be there for, so he curls up on my lap and shivers and shakes until he knows he is not getting a shot.

“Pets may shiver or shake for many reasons—pain, fear, anxiety, nerves, or simply being too cold,” writes Dr. Jeff Werber, DVM, at Pet Health Network. Some dogs get the full-body wiggles when they are excited by a visitor or a treat. Senior pets may find their hind legs shake as they try to stand up due to weakened muscles. Dogs may shiver because they are freezing and need to warm up, or they may shiver just because. “For many very small dogs, trembling appears to be just a normal fact of life,” writes Dr. Nancy Kay DVM for the Pet Health Network.

Other times dogs will shiver when they are scared by loud noises like Fourth of July fireworks, loud construction sounds, sirens, or thunderstorms. If loud noises are the root of your dog’s sudden scaredy-cat routine, the shaking should subside as soon as the noise does. Noises like fireworks and thunderstorms can cause anxiety for some dogs and there are ways to help ease their stress, including special clothing, mental stimulation, exercise, and nutritional supplements, according to PetMD.com.

If the shivering and shaking is accompanied by excessive panting, this is usually a sign of stress caused by an external factor (noise, etc.) or intestinal discomfort cured by a trip outdoors and a few days of a bland diet.

Dogs may also shake when they are nauseated, including from motion sickness or, PetMD.com warns, from poisoning. For example, they could possibly have a reaction to be concerned about if they consume  something it shouldn’t like chocolate, cigarettes, antifreeze, or xylitol-sweetened chewing gum.

They may also start to shake if they are in pain. If you suspect that’s the case, it’s up to you, as their devoted human companion, to determine whether it’s serious enough to warrant a trip to the vet. Survey your pet looking for anything that looks strange—bloating, tension, stiffness, limping, or strange, strained movements. Werber at Pet Health Network says that determination is usually “a judgment call” made by the person who knows the pet best. We would always suggest being more cautious to make sure.

Sometimes shivering can be a sign of a more serious condition, including seizure disorders, distemper, generalized tremor syndrome (GTS), kidney or liver disease, or an endocrine disorder called Addison’s disease which can cause excessive shivering. Dr. Kay suggests that if the “trembling continues for more than an hour or two” and the pup has other symptoms like lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, panting, or a possible toxin that the dog may have consumed, it may be worth a trip to the vet.