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Why is my old dog shaking?

Old dog in his basket advice
© Unsplash

Have you noticed your old dog shaking frequently? There are so many things which can cause shaking or shiver in dogs - from the excitement of seeing you, to back and joint pain or being scared of the fireworks. And sometimes, old age itself is to blame. Let’s talk about the causes of dog shaking, and when you should be concerned

By Alice Lang

Watching as your old dog shakes away with no apparent cause can seem worrying. Involuntary shaking and trembling can be caused by an underlying condition, but sometimes in older dogs, it’s all down to old age and isn’t necessarily a cause for concern.

Is my old dog shaking or having a seizure?

“A seizure is when the dog suddenly loses all body control, paddling their legs, jerking or convulsing. It can last for a number of minutes,” explains Dr Marc, a veterinarian guest blogger, to Pets Best.

“Shivering is when a dog can make eye contact with you and respond to you, but its body is shaking. Shivering can vary from minimally, to a lot, but the dog still has control of its body.”

Basically, if your dog is having a seizure, they’re quite likely to be completely unconscious or less aware of their surroundings. In this case, you should get to the vet immediately for an examination.

Causes of shaking in dogs

It’s important to understand all the possible causes of an old dog shaking, so you can identify what help or treatment your pooch might need.

Excitement, anxiety or fear

Your old dog’s shaking might just be situational. They might simply be really excited to see you - which is pretty cute, right? But if your dog is becoming a little too overwhelmed when you return, it’s best to keep greetings brief. That way, they won’t relate you returning home with an immediate fuss or cuddle.

On the flipside, they might be anxious, stressed or scared. Have some fireworks just gone off, was there a sudden bang, or is your pup in a new environment or around strangers?

Older dogs are way more reactive to changes in environment, adrenaline and excitement, and the stimulation of these events can trigger excessive shaking. If this becomes a regular issue, you should consider taking your pooch to the vet, who might prescribe an anti-anxiety medication to help calm them down.


old dog shaking
Old dogs feel the cold more than younger ones - so keep them warm! ©Rose Elena on Unsplash

What happens to a human when they get chilly? They shake, of course - and it’s no different when it comes to dogs. If you’re cold or need to have multiple layers or blankets to keep warm, your pup is likely to be feeling it, too.

On top of this, old dogs notice the cold more than their younger friends. If you suspect your old dog is shaking because they're cold, consider buying some doggy clothes and providing extra blankets in the house.

Pain or arthritis

If you notice your old dog shaking often, they might be suffering from pain or have developed arthritis. Arthritis is extremely common in older dogs due to the general wear and tear of their muscles over the years.

Your pooch is likely to lump or limp after they’ve got up if they’re suffering from pain or arthritis. They might also begin to move around less as the pain worsens. If this is the case, your vet can prescribe pain medication to control their arthritis and settle the shaking.

Medical conditions

There are a variety of medical conditions which may be the cause of your old dog shaking. These include metabolic disorders, poisoning, seizure disorders, inflammatory conditions, neurological conditions or general sickness such as nausea.

If your old dog is shaking and has other symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhoea or behavioural changes, you should go to the vet as soon as you can for help.

But sometimes, it’s just down to old age

old dog shaking
Dog's bodies weaken as they get older, just like ours  ©Sam Manns on Unsplash

Sometimes, the cause of your old dog shaking may be unknown. This is called an ‘idiopathic tremor’. Have you ever noticed your elderly friends hands or mouth shake for no reason, accompanied by no apparent pain? The same thing can happen with elderly dogs, most commonly in the limbs or jaw.

This is linked to a generalised weakening of muscles as your pup ages, as well as slow degeneration of the nervous system. This type of tremor normally doesn’t affect how well a dog walks or moves, and isn’t an indication that anything is wrong. Your beloved pooch is simply getting a little old - just like we do!

While treatment isn’t necessary for an idiopathic tremor, you may need to alter your dog’s exercise routine as they become older. They’re physically less able to exercice compared to younger dogs, so adjust the length and difficulty of walks accordingly. Make sure you’re feeding your old dog a high-quality diet and provide an extra comfy place to sleep.

When to see a vet about an old dog shaking

As we’ve discussed, old dog shaking can happen for all kinds of reasons - some more concerning than others. But we must reiterate that trembling can, in some cases, be a symptom of something serious such as poisoning.

If your pooch begins shaking out of the blue or it gets worse quickly, or they’re exhibiting other symptoms such as a loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhoea, abnormal breathing or behaviour, you need to get to the vet right away.

Hopefully, understanding that old dog shaking is a normal part of canine ageing has put your mind at ease, and you can enjoy the last few years with your incredible pup worry-free!

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