It can be a cause of much hilarity — your dog twitching in his sleep to the beat of the music in the background or looking like he's playing an invisible drum set while snoozing on his back. Although shaking in his sleep is normal and natural, some dog tremors are cause for concern.
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Why dogs shake during sleep
The most common reason your dog twitches is that she's having a dream during the REM (rapid eye movement) phase of sleep. Twitching might involve making running or paddling movements with the lower legs, shuddering, and making muffled yips. Twitching occurs only during dream states, according to Dr. Stanley Cohen, professor emeritus at the University of British Columbia. The average dog starts to dream about 20 minutes after dozing off, he notes. A dog's breathing becomes irregular, and his eyes will start moving around behind the eyelids. Dreams and any twitching accompanying it will last from about one minute in small dogs to four minutes in large breeds.
Troublesome dog tremors in sleep
If you've ever woken yourself up with violent twitching during sleep, you know how annoying it can be. For some dogs, excessive twitching can keep them from getting the rest they need. Schedule a visit with your veterinarian if the twitching seems to be disrupting your dog's sleep on a regular basis. Another reason for concern would be if your dog develops full body shakes accompanied by loss of bowel or urinary tract control or excessive frothy drooling. If you can't wake your dog up during one of these bouts or she seems really out of it, she might have suffered a seizure in her sleep.
Sudden onset dog muscle spasms
Although dogs will shake when they are cold, scared or overtired, involuntary shaking while your dog is awake can be a signal to check with your vet for potential health issues. Your dog could be dehydrated, hypoglycemic, or his blood electrolytes could be out of balance. Trembling can also be a tip that your dog ingested something toxic, is in severe pain, has been injured, or is experiencing kidney failure. Scan your dog's environment for clues, such as a chewed plant, vomit, diarrhea, or anything else abnormal. These clues, if any, can help your vet more quickly determine what is at the root of your dog's sudden trembling.
There might not be any evidence of a cause at all, especially if your dog has experienced a stroke, seizure, or another neurological event. Take note of any odd symptoms your dog has, such as pressing her head against a wall or furniture, walking off balance, or difficulty tracking your hand with a treat in it. Some breeds are prone to motor neuron degeneration, including Rottweilers, Dobermans, German shepherds, and pointers. However, shaking usually follows a gradual loss of muscle strength that becomes apparent by the dog's second year of life.
Twitchy dog breeds
Some breeds of dog are more prone to involuntary trembling. Known as "shaker syndrome," this type of twitching usually affects small white dogs such as poodles, Maltese, and West Highland terriers in the first two years of life. Larger dog breeds that include Labrador retrievers, Samoyeds, Weimaraners, chow chows, springer spaniels, Dalmatians, Doberman pinschers, and English bulldogs are also predisposed to trembling. When affected, shaker dogs have involuntary muscle movements that can make it look like they are cold or scared. The syndrome might affect their entire body or be localized to the head or side of the body. Severe cases of shaker syndrome can prevent a dog from eating, sleeping or performing other necessary functions. The disorder is thought to be an immune system response and usually responds well to treatment with steroids.