Watch a dog sleep and eventually, they will start to twitch, leaving you to wonder if they are dreaming of chasing rabbits across the yard. If a dog twitches or shakes while they're awake, however, things could be a lot more serious. Like people, dogs may twitch or have muscle spasms for numerous reasons. While some reasons are easily explained, others could be signs of a larger illness. Twitching and tremors in dogs can occur in puppies, adult dogs, and senior dogs for a variety of reasons that may or may not be cause for concern.
Twitching in dogs during sleep is OK
Twitches are involuntary muscle contractions. When your dog is asleep, chances are that twitching is related to rapid eye movement sleep or rem sleep, an important part of the sleep cycle, just as it is in humans. While the jury is still out on whether dogs actually dream of chasing critters or playing with others, a dog's muscle moving involuntarily during sleep mirrors those of their human counterparts. There is no need to wake your dog because a dog's body simply does this during sleep. Sleep twitching can look disconcerting at first, especially in young puppies when accompanied by fast breathing, but it's totally natural.
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Signs of myokymia in dogs
Myokymia is the contraction of small bands of muscle fibers, causing twitching in the overlying skin. This is common during sleep or under anesthesia and most commonly occurs on a dog's face. However, outside of sleep or anesthesia, myokymia can be a sign of more serious abnormalities. The condition may result from a variety of central or peripheral nervous system disorders, including distemper, demyelination (in which the sheaths of neurons are damaged), or autoimmune disease.
Shivering and trembling in dogs
Dogs shivering can have many of the same common causes as for humans — they're cold, they're old, or they're nervous. But more serious causes of trembling in dogs can stem from eating toxic foods, like chocolate. These shakes usually come with other issues, such as diarrhea or vomiting. Distemper also causes shaking as well as noticeable eye and nose discharge, fever, and coughing fits. When toxicity or distemper are possibilities, seeking emergency veterinary attention immediately could save your dog's life.
Other causes of muscle twitching in dogs
In some cases, the underlying cause of a dog's tremors simply cannot be determined. This is called generalized tremor syndrome. In other cases, shaking could be due to an injury; a reaction to a drug or chemical; a nervous system disease, such as epilepsy; or as a side effect of kidney failure. Tremors may also stem from low blood sugar in dogs. This is more common in some breeds, such as the toy poodle.
Genetic predisposition for shaking
Certain breeds tend to be more genetically susceptible to trembling. The condition is so prevalent, in fact, that these breeds are often called "shaker dogs" with "shaker syndrome." Typically affected breeds include chow chows, springer spaniels, Samoyeds, Weimaraners, Dalmatians, Doberman pinschers, English bulldogs, and Labrador retrievers. It also tends to occur more frequently in white dogs and dog breeds with white coats, such as West Highland white terriers.
Treatment for trembling in dogs
Generally, involuntary muscle movements in dogs are symptoms of an underlying issue. Once that issue is treated — for example, they're given medicine to counteract the effects of having eaten paint chips — the shaking goes away. In other cases, your veterinarian will likely prescribe drugs to help control or halt the movements. Never overexert a dog with a tremor disorder, as it will only aggravate their condition. Consult your veterinarian if shaking remains persistent, as that could indicate neurological disorders or other health conditions.
Involuntary muscle trembling in dogs can indicate a serious problem, such as ingestion of a toxic substance. Dogs dream like humans do, so twitching in sleep and occasional occurrences are generally OK. If you notice body tremors in breeds genetically susceptible to twitching, be sure to monitor for signs of low blood sugar and check to see if your dog's breed is classified as a type of "shaker dog."