Shivering, shaking, and trembling can be a sign that a dog is cold, but it can also be a symptom of many other things. Dogs often give an all-over shake when they are wet; when they're feeling stressed, scared, or anxious; when they're in pain; when they wake up; or when they are ill with an ear infection or other physical ailment.
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Shaking off water
Anyone who has ever stood next to a dog who has just had a bath or has come in from rain knows what happens next. The dog vigorously gives an all-over shake that sends water flying in all directions: on the floor, on the walls, and especially on you. Most dogs don't like getting wet and really don't like staying wet, and this kind of shaking actually releases 70 percent of the water in their coat in about four seconds.
Shivering from cold
When dogs are cold, shivering helps to keep their body warm. This is a behavior dogs acquired through evolution as a survival mechanism. Shivering is caused by the tightening and relaxing of muscles, and this action generates heat.
You may have noticed that small dogs, especially miniature and toy sizes, seem to shake more than larger dogs. Small dogs have more skin relative to their body volume, so they lose more heat easily. Dog sweaters aren't only popular because dogs look cute in them; they are intended to keep them warm too.
Certain dog breeds, like Chihuahuas, are known for their shaking, and this does not mean they are anxious dogs as some may claim. Shaking or shivering can be controlled by warming the room, putting a sweater on them, or giving them warm blankets in which to cuddle.
Trembling from stress, anxiety, or fright
Dogs don't have to attend fireworks to shake with fear; just hearing them or plain old thunder nearby scares many dogs so much that they shake. Of course, you may not see them trembling because they might dive under the bed. Dogs don't understand "it's just thunder," and the fear of loud noises, which is called noise anxiety, can overwhelm them to the point of trembling. They may remember that after the loud booms comes heavy rain that beats against the windows and wind that howls like a wild animal.
Anything that scares a dog or makes a dog stressed can cause trembling, including a new pet or new baby joining the household or meeting strangers. Some dogs have separation anxiety and may tremble when they see you putting on your coat or picking up your car keys. A special toy to bite and chase may help distract them while you're gone, and a small spritz of lavender on their doggy bed may have a calming effect. Since a dog's sense of smell is much stronger than a human's, only the tiniest amount is needed, and spraying too much can rile up a dog again.
Shaking from pain
Intense pain can make dogs shake, and since older dogs are more apt to experience pain from arthritis and other degenerative diseases, senior dogs are prone to shaking. Sometimes, just one part of the body will shake, like one leg, because the muscles and ligaments are no longer strong enough to hold the dog's weight or due to an injury of a ligament or tendon. When dogs continually shake their head with or without their body shaking, they might have an ear infection.
Shivering with excitement
Trembling, shivering, and shaking are not always signs that something is wrong. Some dogs quiver with the anticipation of fun to come, such as when they see you pick up their leash or a bag of treats or when a dog they know comes over to play. Seeing squirrels or other critters while on a walk or experiencing intense scents can also get dogs excited. If their tail is wagging and they eagerly charge ahead, it's clear they are trembling with joy, not fear or pain.
Recognizing more serious conditions
Sometimes, shaking or shivering is an indication of serious illnesses, like generalized tremor syndrome, epilepsy or other seizure disorders, poisoning, or distemper. If your dog is shivering and does not seem to be cold, stressed, or excited, consider the possibility of a serious condition that warrants a call to your vet, especially if the shaking is accompanied by vomiting, loss of appetite, diarrhea, limping, drooling, panting, lethargy, or other troubling symptoms.