What Causes My Dog to Shiver?

By Tammy Quinn Mckillip

If your dog is shivering and it isn't winter, he may need more than a sweater to keep him still. Shivering can be a sign of cold, excitement or old age in pets, but it also can indicate possible illness. Take your shaky dog to the veterinarian if his shivering has no obvious cause and lasts for more than a few minutes at a time.

Generalized Tremor Syndrome

Also called steroid responsive tremor syndrome, generalized tremor syndrome is shaking in dogs that begins between 9 months and 2 years of age. Other symptoms may include rolling eyes, a head tilt, muscle weakness, seizures and poor coordination. There is no known cause for the disorder, which can affect dogs of any breed.

Treatment for generalized tremor syndrome involves benzodiazepines and corticosteroids, including prednisone. Most dogs respond to treatment within a week or so after starting their medication. Your vet typically will taper off the medications slowly when your dog begins to show improvement. Up to 25 percent of dogs with generalized tremor syndrome may have the condition for life. The malady was once thought to affect only small white dogs and was first called white shaker dog syndrome.

Hypothermia in Dogs

Just like their human companions, dogs can get hypothermia, or low body temperature, if they are exposed to extreme frigid temperatures for too long. A dog whose body temperature falls between 90 to 99 degrees is in the stage of mild hypothermia. If he is not brought indoors and protected from the cold, he may develop moderate hypothermia, where his body temperature is between 82 to 90. Severe hypothermia occurs when a dog's temperature falls below 82. In addition to shivering, a dog with hypothermia may have a shallow, rapid pant, stiff limbs, disorientation, weakness, dilated pupils or a faint heartbeat. A dog in the severe stages of hypothermia may become comatose.

Aside from extreme cold, hypothermia also may be caused by general anesthesia, an underactive thyroid gland, or hypothyroidism or a diseased hypothalamus, which regulates body temperature.

Treat a dog with mild hypothermia by keeping her still and covering her with a thermal or other type of warm blanket. A dog with moderate hypothermia will need to be rewarmed with an electric heater or a heating pad wrapped in a towel to avoid an accidental burn. Severe hypothermia must be treated from the inside-out by a veterinarian with IV fluids and a warm water enema.

Hypoglycemia in Dogs

Hypoglycemia occurs when there is an overabundance of insulin in a dog's body, causing his blood sugar levels to drop to dangerously low levels. Though the condition can be caused by extreme hunger, it usually occurs in dogs being treated for diabetes. Other symptoms of hypoglycemia in dogs include a dramatic change in appetite, weakness, disorientation, vision problems, anxiety or restlessness, seizures or loss of consciousness.

Treat an acute case of hypoglycemia immediately by providing a small snack to your dog if she is capable of eating. If she is unable to take food orally, your vet will need to inject glucose into her veins. Take your dog to the vet for a physical examination, blood work and a urinalysis if she shows signs of hypoglycemia, as the condition can be fatal if left untreated.

Other Causes

If your puppy or dog has not been properly vaccinated and begins to shiver, cough, run a fever or discharge mucus from his eyes and nose he may have distemper, a virus common in puppies and adolescent dogs. Treatment involves antibiotics for any secondary infection, plenty of fluids, bronchodilators and physical therapy.

A dog with severe nausea may shiver. Potential causes of nausea include car sickness, ingesting toxic plants or substances, kidney or liver disease or over- or undereating. Some inflammatory brain diseases or conditions will cause dogs to shake, as will a seizure disorder and chronic kidney failure.

Old dogs and dogs suffering from arthritis or an injury may tremble in pain or out of weakness. Otherwise healthy dogs may shiver with excitement, fear or any strong emotion. If you are worried that your dog's shivering may be caused by an underlying medical condition, take him to the vet.