Old dog in his basket

Arthritis is one cause of shaking in dogs.

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Why is my old dog shaking?

By Dr. Laura Harvey BVetMed GPCert (WVA&CPM) MRCVS Veterinarian

Updated on the

If your dog is shaking it might not mean there's much wrong, but what do you do if it continues and there are other symptoms?

Old dogs can shake for multiple reasons. If your dog is otherwise well, then it could just be an age-related change. But if your dog is showing other symptoms, for example lethargy, reduced appetite, vomiting or breathing problems, as well as shaking, they should be examined by a vet as soon as possible as toxin ingestion is a possibility.

What are the causes of my dog's shivering or trembling?

There are multiple causes of shivering or trembling in dogs. These include a non-harmful age-related tremor, pain, toxin ingestion, low body temperature, seizures and other systemic diseases, including endocrine (hormonal) disease.

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What treatments are there for my dog's shivering or trembling?

Treatment options vary widely, depending on the underlying cause. A vet will be able to advise you on the treatment options for your pet, once they have examined your dog and performed any necessary diagnostic tests.

What should I do if my dog is shaking?

If your dog is otherwise well, shaking is intermittent and there are no other symptoms, it is worth taking a video of your dog shaking to show to a vet, but it is unlikely to be an emergency. But if your dog is exhibiting any other symptoms, for example lethargy, vomiting or loss of appetite, you should contact a vet immediately due to the possibility of underlying disease that may require urgent treatment, particularly toxin ingestion.

Do dogs shake when they are in pain?

Yes, they can do, particularly if the pain is from a joint, muscle, nerve or tendon. It can occur with acute and chronic pain. It is more common in chronic pain when standing still for periods of time or going for longer walks, where the muscles become fatigued and a tremor develops.

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Does arthritis cause shaking in dogs?

Yes, it can do. This is due to pain from the affected joints, or secondary pain from muscles and other joints doing extra work to reduce the load on the affected joint. Dogs with arthritis will often do less exercise due to the discomfort and reduced mobility, leading to weaker muscles. These muscles will then fatigue and become tired more quickly, leading to a tremor, particularly when standing or walking for long periods. Affected dogs will often shift their weight when standing to reduce this.

Why is my dog shaking for no reason?

If your dog is otherwise well, it could be a non-harmful, age-related change. But there is no specific test for this, rather it is a diagnosis of exclusion. Therefore if your dog starts shaking, take a video of it and take your dog to the vet. Once the vet has examined your dog, they will be able to advise you on the best next steps for your dog. This may involve diagnostic tests, such as blood and urine tests, to rule out possible causes of shaking.

What are the signs that my dog is dying?

These can vary, but can include increasing lethargy, loss of appetite, not wanting to or unable to stand or move around. Signs may also include panting, trouble breathing, loss of sight and other senses, and falling unconscious. Tremors may or may not be seen.

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Should you let your dog die naturally?

Most of the time euthanasia is kinder to prevent unnecessary suffering for your dog. The best advice is to discuss this with a vet, as they will be able to advise you on an individual basis for your dog.

How do I know when it’s time to euthanise my dog?

As your dog’s owner, you know them the best, therefore you are in the best position to make this decision. A vet will be able to guide you. Criteria for helping to decide this include when your dog is no longer themselves, for example their behaviour can change and they may no longer want to interact with you or others in the household. Other criteria include appetite, mobility levels and continence. These individual factors add together to indicate how good your dog’s quality of life is. When this is not sufficient, euthanasia should be considered. A vet is the best person to advise you on this and can discuss your dog's individual case with you.

What do you do if your dog passes away at home?

You can either bury your dog at home (in the UK) or arrange for a cremation for them. A vet practice will be able to do this for you or you can arrange it directly with the crematorium. Your dog can either be cremated with other pets and the ashes kept at the crematorium, or they can be cremated by themselves and their ashes returned to you. This is a very personal decision and different people have different preferences. It is worth being aware of the options available to you (and their respective costs) in advance, so it is one less thing for you to have to think about at a difficult time.

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If my dog is shivering and lethargic, is it an emergency?

If your dog is shivering and unaware of their surroundings, your dog could be having a seizure. Make sure there is nothing sharp near them and turn all lights off. Keep your hands away from their mouth. Measure the time it lasts for and how they recover. Contact a vet for advice immediately. If your dog is still bright, aware of their surroundings, still eating etc, then it is likely to be less of an emergency. Any sign of lethargy or other signs together with shaking could be an emergency, for example toxin ingestion, so therefore a vet should be contacted immediately.

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