Over the last few years, you've watched your beloved dog take ever longer naps and her eyes grow cloudy. She has a hard time navigating the steps into the house, and you've bought a ramp so she can clamber into bed with you since she can no longer jump.
It's not a surprise, since at age 14, small breeds are the equivalent of 72 years old in human years, and large breeds similar to 88-year-olds. But if your dog is suddenly shivering or shaking it may not be a normal age-related change and will likely require a trip to the vet for evaluation.
Fear and cold
The most benign conditions that might cause old-dog shaking are circumstantial. Even if he hadn't been afraid of thunderstorms in the past, if your older dog is losing his hearing, he may be startled by a clap of thunder because it's suddenly a sound he can hear. And that can cause him to shake in fear.
Often, older dogs get cold more easily than they once did. They might start shivering while on a walk in cold weather, so it's a good idea for him to wear a coat or sweater outside. Inside, he still might shake, so make sure he has a soft bed that can help hold his body heat. If he will tolerate it, cover him with a light blanket while he's sleeping.
Dog shivering and panting
Pain can sometimes cause a dog to shake, but it's often hard to figure out if your dog is in pain and the source. A dog shivering and panting might be a sign of stress due to intense pain. If the pain is caused by a bloated abdomen, it could be pancreatitis or another intestinal condition that causes dog shivering and vomitting.
If your dog is shivering and panting but has trouble walking or moving, it could be due to a herniated disc. Muscle problems along the spine could also be the culprit. These symptoms warrant a trip to the vet, or emergency clinic, as soon as possible.
Diagnosing Addison's disease
Addison's disease stems from a hormonal deficiency in the adrenal glands. These hormones help regulate water and electrolytes as well as keep stress under control. A dog shivering and lethargic could be caused by Addison's disease. The condition can also cause weakness, poor appetite, vomiting, and dehydration.
Your vet will perform blood, urine, and electrolyte tests to help diagnose the disease. If she has Addison's she will be prescribed oral forms of the hormones cortisol and aldosterone to control the disease, and she will have to take the medication for the rest of her life.
Check your dog's ears
If you see your dog shaking just his head, it may be related to ear irritation or infection. Dogs with long, floppy ears, like cocker spaniels and basset hounds, are especially prone to ear trouble. Check inside your dog's ears to see if they appear red or inflamed. Dirty ears may also cause him to shake his head. If your dog is repeatedly shaking his head, it may make him feel better temporarily, but the cause should be determined by a vet.
Additional causes of shaking
Just as an older person's hands may shake when doing a task, your dog may have trembling in her legs and jaw. This can be caused as muscles weaken with age and as changes occur in the nervous system.
As they age, dogs can be more sensitive to adrenaline when they're excited or scared, such as when a package is delivered to the front door or she sees another dog on a walk. This extra stimulation may cause both dog shivering and panting.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.
- Brook Falls Veterinary Hospital: Why Do My Dogs Legs Shake?
- Dogster: Ask a Vet: What Causes Panting and Trembling in Senior Dogs?
- American Kennel Club: How to Calculate Dog Years to Human Years
- Pet Health Network: Is it an Emergency? Shivering, Lethargy, and More
- Pet Health Network: Addison's Disease in Dogs
- American Kennel Club:Why Is My Dog Shaking? It’s Not Always out of Fear