Have you noticed your puppy shaking or trembling? As this behavior is so common, we’ve had one of our veterinarians explain everything in detail about puppies, shaking, when to worry, and how to help.
Shaking is usually caused by stress or anxiety but it can also be triggered by being cold. This is quite common as puppies struggle to regulate their own body heat at such a young age. In rarer cases, shaking could indicate health issues.
When you notice your puppy trembling, take note of when it starts and how long it lasts. Check their environment for any possible causes and establish if they have any other symptoms. When in doubt, never hesitate to contact your local veterinary clinic and ask their opinion.
Is It Normal For Puppies To Shake & Tremble?
Most shaking is a normal physiological response to things like stress, nausea, and pain. We can also see shivering when a puppy is cold in an effort to raise body temperature. Shaking that’s temporary and has a clear explanation, is usually nothing to worry about.
In addition, shaking seems to affect smaller breed puppies more often than large breed puppies. Their increased anxiety could be due to their small size, inability to remain warm, or our tendency to “coddle” them more.
When it isn’t normal:
If your puppy is shaking and you’re not sure why, this is a red flag. Similarly, if your puppy is shaking all the time, this is not normal either.
When we adopt a new puppy:
It isn’t unusual to have to drive some distance to bring them home. This car ride is a source of stress for the puppy. They are leaving their mum and siblings for the first time and have probably never left their home before. They may feel sick due to the motion of the car and this will be a new sensation to them.
They are unsure who their new owners are and are probably feeling very unsettled. Given all of this, it is little wonder that many pups will tremble when we first take them home. This is to be expected and should quickly improve once the puppy has found their feet and had a little food and a play.
Once your puppy has settled in and become more confident, trembling will hopefully be a thing of the past.
Interesting article: Why do dogs always like sleeping between our legs? (we found out!)
12 Reasons Why Puppies Shake So Much
As discussed, there is a wide range of reasons why puppies may suddenly begin to shake. We need to consider:
1. Cold temperatures
Shaking is an innate mechanism that will occur involuntarily in response to the cold. The shivering should help to create warmth and raise body temperature. Once your pup has warmed up the shivering will soon stop. During the winter, it can help to keep a coat on your puppy when outside.
2. Stress or anxiety
Stress hormones released in anticipation of a fight or flight response can lead to tremoring that a pup cannot control. They may also hide away, flatten their ears, and whine. Things that your young dog can find stressful include a change in routine, loud noises, car travel, and being around people and other pets when not yet well socialized. It is not unusual for puppies to tremble on the veterinary consult table the first time they go to their local vet clinic. Try to keep ‘scary’ experiences positive by encouraging your pup and offering lots of high-value rewards such as chicken.
Some dogs simply cannot contain their excitement and may run about, howl, and even shake with anticipation! This can be in response to e.g. seeing their lead before a walk or having their food placed in front of them. This adorable behavior is a trait of puppies and is usually outgrown in adolescence.
4. A source of pain
When a pup is in discomfort, they will feel stressed and may tremble. Sometimes, the source of pain will be obvious, such as a laceration or stone in the paw. Other times, we may have to look closely for signs of e.g. an ear infection or blocked anal glands. If you think your dog is in pain, they should be brought to their vet right away.
5. Staying dry
Puppies will shake excessively after they have gotten wet. They may have recently had a bath or perhaps they have been out in the rain. To prevent themselves from getting cold, puppies have evolved to shake their bodies and remove the excess moisture.
The shaking associated with nausea may be due to the associated stress and abdominal discomfort. It is also possible that your unwell pup has a fever, which leads to shivering.
7. Low blood sugar
As well as shaking, we may see lethargy and weakness when a puppy suffers from hypoglycemia. Puppies are prone to low blood sugar when unwell as they do not have a lot of fat stores and need to eat regularly.
8. Abnormal salt levels
Pups can develop abnormal salt levels when they are unwell and vomiting or off their food.
9. Seizure activity
Typical signs of tonic-clonic seizures include muscle tremors, collapse, limb paddling, and vocalization. A seizure is a true emergency and you should contact your vet right away if your puppy has a fit.
10. Liver disease such as a shunt
A liver shunt is an uncommon congenital disease that can result in a puppy who struggles to gain weight and is generally unwell. Though not always easy to diagnose, blood tests and diagnostic imaging can confirm a shunt. The toxin build-up caused by the shunt can result in muscle tremors, circling, head pressing, and seizures.
11. Toxin ingestion
Puppies are naturally curious critters who explore the world with their mouths. They can develop neurological symptoms such as muscle tremors if they eat toxins such as weedkillers, lawn feed, or cigarette butts.
12. Shaking puppy syndrome
This rare condition is also called ‘hypomyelination’ and is a disease that occurs in certain pedigrees such as the Golden Retriever, Border Terriers, and Springer Spaniels. Signs start very young and, sadly, there is not currently a treatment.
Additional reading: Why does my puppy eat poop? Advice from a veterinarian
Why Do Puppies Shake During Their Sleep?
Most puppies who shake while asleep are simply dreaming. During REM sleep, as your pup dreams about chasing cats and chomping down on a sirloin steak, you may see them physically “act out” their dreams.
As well as shaking muscles, your puppy might paddle their limbs and even bark out loud. We can tell there is nothing to worry about as your pup can be easily aroused and will act normal once awake.
How To Help Your Puppy Stop Shaking & Trembling
If you notice your puppy is shaking, try not to panic. Assess the situation by taking a look around. Is your pup in a safe and familiar spot? Do they feel cold or warm? Are they showing signs of stress such as cowering away or whining? You may be able to determine that your pup is simply cold or stressed.
Sometimes, the problem really is easy to resolve. A cold puppy should be moved to a warmer room and given a blanket. A nervous pup should calm down with some kind words and cuddles.
On the other hand, perhaps they are feeling poorly. Has your puppy recently eaten something they shouldn’t, sustained an injury, or do they have any other symptoms? If they have also been vomiting, have diarrhea or seem lethargic then a vet visit is sensible. If there is a serious issue, medical treatment may be required.
Further reading: What vaccines do puppies need at what age?
What If My Puppy Is Only Shakes In One Area?
Rather than trembling all over, what if your little guy is experiencing localized shaking? Tremors that are only present in e.g. just one limb, may well indicate an injury and pain in that area. If your puppy tolerates it, you can closely examine the area that is trembling. Check for any abnormalities such as swelling, lacerations, skin redness, or heat.
When To Be Concerned & Visit Your Vet
Though shaking in puppies can be a common sign, if the shaking persists or isn’t easily explained, you should see your vet. As puppies can go downhill quickly, it is important they are assessed and treated promptly when unwell.
Additional reading: How many times per day should a puppy poop?
The Take Home Message
For most, shaking is a short-lived symptom that is easily explained. We rarely have to worry about our puppy shaking and it is a behavior they tend to grow out of once older and more confident. For a small number of puppies, shaking is a sign of something more serious going on and it is important we have them assessed by a professional.