Why do dogs shake their bodies?

There may be several reasons why your dog would do this and most of them are no cause for concern. However, it’s important to recognize what these are and what the potentially more serious ones are. As always when we’re dealing with the health of the dog you must always seek professional help. That is not usually going to be someone online.

People with experience, like us, can share what we’ve noticed but this does not make up for an education in the field. The simple fact is this – if you have any doubts or any concerns – just pick up your phone and have a chat with your vet.

Why do dogs shake their bodies? A dog may shake its body if it’s is in pain so check to see if they’re moving in an unusual fashion and also check their limbs. It may also be related to just old-age, their joints might be aching – are you exercising them too much for their age? Or, they may just be too cold!

Having a dog can be a roller-coaster ride of emotions. In so many ways the experience is like having a child. There are many positives to the experience, of course – but it can also be beset with emotional toil. Dogs can become ill quickly and go downhill even quicker. It doesn’t help of course that they can’t properly communicate with us so we have to look out for the symptoms ourselves and try and work out what they mean.

There are many reasons why your dog might shake their body. This article will help you explore those reasons to try and determine what the root cause is.

It seems obvious, but are they cold? If so, feel the inside of their ear.  If you perform a little investigation and follow the tips below, you’ll soon get to the root cause but the bottom line is they’re trying to communicate something and you need to find out what it is!

Finding The Reason Why Your Dog Is Shaking

So, let’s think about this in some more detail. They might not be able to tell us why they’re shaking the way they are, but, with a bit of detective work, we should be able to find out why. Dogs can shake for all kinds of reasons, so ask yourself these questions:

  • Could they be scared of something?
  • Might they be nervous about something (or someone)?
  • Are they anxious for some reason?
  • Is it possible they are in pain?
  • Or are they just cold? I left this last as it’s probably the most obvious one and I’m sure you’d already thought of this.

Fireworks causing anxiety?

Why do dogs shake their bodies?

Sometimes, there can be several reasons. A dog could be scared of fireworks, therefore they will be both nervous and anxious around any dates where fireworks are let off. Perhaps surprisingly, one of the best things you can do here is to not make a fuss out of it. Ignore the fireworks and the noise yourself. If you make a fuss then the dog will detect a change of behavior, which it won’t like and can add to the anxious feelings.

Any single one of these feelings can induce shaking as you can see here, we have a combination of negative feelings all down to one event. There is some medication that can be administered to a dog that suffers from excessive symptoms related to anxiety and nerves if you feel your dog exhibits these traits then speak to your vet.

Shaking in your dog because of Pain

Are they also panting? This could be a sign that they are stressed and possibly in discomfort. This is where (whilst being cautious not to make them even more anxious) you should carefully examine your dog to see if there are any obvious problems with limbs, maybe a fracture? Are they reluctant to move? If your dog does move but appears to be off-balance, this could be a problem related to a spine-related issue and you should contact your vets.

Pain Relief

If there aren’t any obvious symptoms to the shaking, another idea would be to contact your vet and ask if they can prescribe pain-relief or anti-inflammatory medication. You need to be very careful with the doses here, of course, if you’re not comfortable with this you may want to seek expert help, again with your vets.

Take the temperature of your dog, it’s worth getting one as you’re bound to require it on at least a couple of occasions throughout its life and better to have one at-hand than have to go out when your pet is poorly and have to find one. If you don’t have a thermometer already, take a look at this great one on Amazon (opens in a new tab).

Shaking Because of Temperature

According to vetinfo, the normal temperature for a dog is between 37.8°C (100°F) and 39.3°C (102.7°F), if it’s above this upper limit then you should consider calling a vet. If it’s not and you can’t see any obvious problems and the only symptom is that your dog is shaking, it most likely wouldn’t do any harm to give it 24 hours to see if they get better.

This is assuming they are drinking, eating and walking – if they aren’t doing all these three things then call the vets. Likewise, if they have shown no sign of recovery after 24 hours, play it safe and contact your vet.

Shaking to Get our Attention?

It should be noted though that there are other reasons why a dog may shiver. Perhaps he has learned this behavior achieves a certain result? You may not think this possible but dogs are clever.

If previously they have exhibited this behavior and you’ve spoilt them with treats and cuddles (err depending on the size) then they may associate this behavior with that response. Unlikely perhaps in most situations but think about it, has this happened before? It’s best not to assume this is the case but if a pattern emerges it’s definitely worth considering.

Shaking due to Old Age

When dogs get older it is more likely they will have problems that manifest in physical shaking. Some old-age shaking is even expected and can be down to joint pains but don’t assume it’s always related to their age.

Are you walking them too hard? Remember they’re not as young as they used to be (I know the feeling) and maybe they shouldn’t be exercised as much as you think. Try a shorter walk, if they’re up to it and see how they respond.

Is Your Dog shaking due to a Cold House?

Why do dogs shake their bodies?

You should get some comfort out of the fact that the vast majority of cases when dogs are shivering are simply because they are cold! Turn your heating on or cover them partly with a blanket. Obviously, this is much more likely for dogs with little or no hair! An easy way to tell is to touch the inside of the ear, definitely, do not stick your hand in far but just the underside. If it feels cold to the touch, then the dog is cold.

If you can’t turn the heat up in the house, find the dogs favorite resting place (where they feel safe) and make it into a bit of a camp. Put some blankets (not new, make sure they smell of the house and/or of you) down and make sure they’re cozy. If you do this it won’t take long for them to warm up! They will at this point probably just go to sleep and hopefully, the shaking will stop.

Test Again

Test their temperature again after an hour with the ear technique to see if it has made any difference and continue monitoring.

I think the conclusion here is that you shouldn’t panic (that will only stress the dog out more if that’s the problem) – but go through the basics. Take their temperature, check their body and look for problems. Monitor the situation and if they are eating, drinking and walking – consider giving it 24 hours. If in doubt though, call the vets – this is what they’re there for. Even if just for your own reassurance.

Final Thoughts

So, if you’ve ever wondered why dogs shake their bodies – then hopefully now it’s just a little bit clearer and we’ve been able to shed some light on the matter.

But also, the process we followed to identify what the problem was here can (and should) be used to identify other problems relating to your dog also. You should observe them (are they eating/drinking/going to the toilet with no problems), are they moving around okay and also physically examine them as best as you can.

Check for any obvious areas that are sensitive to them but do this softly and without fuss. Just be your usual relaxed self and this will help your dog deal with your odd behavior.  My point here is it should be the first things you do when you suspect something isn’t quite right.

Finally, if you’re looking to understand whether your dog might be depressed, do take a look at my article.


I'm Jane Pettitt, co-owner of Pets Knowledge Base with my husband, Matt. I have a grand total of 50 years’ experience as a pet owner. It all started with a guinea pig called Percy when I was 5 years old and since then I’ve lived with two more guinea pigs, a hamster, mice, a rabbit, a tortoise, a dog, and 11 cats. I’ve learned so much about pet care during this time and many of my articles are based on my personal experiences plus those of my family and friends.

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