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What is Involuntary Muscle Trembling?

Involuntary muscle trembling is any repetitive muscle movement that is impossible for the animal to control. It can affect a single, isolated limb, or be a generalized movement that includes the entire body. It can happen when your dog is at rest or in the process of carrying out an intended movement. Movements can be intermittent and unpredictable, or they may regularly occur at a certain time or during a certain task. The trembling may be only a few seconds in duration, or it may last for an extended period. Very severe tremors can make it difficult for a dog to eat or stand and may result in serious complications if not treated immediately.

Involuntary muscle trembling is a type of involuntary movement that manifests as tremors, twitches or continuous shaking. This is usually a result of chemical and neurological imbalance rather than weakness in the muscles. There can be many contributing factors including hereditary, environmental, and age-related issues. As well as being distressing to the dog, this may interfere with normal motor functions, and in very severe cases can be life-threatening.

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Symptoms of Involuntary Muscle Trembling in Dogs

  • You notice a tremor in one or several limbs which your dog is at rest
  • You notice your dog is weak and trembling when he attempts to move
  • You notice your dog has a persistent twitch or tic that persists during sleep
  • Your dog has severe bouts of shaking which may involve the entire body
  • Your dog appears to have seizures.
  • You see behavioral changes in your dog, especially increased anxiety in relation to tasks which involve movement.
  • Your dog is incapable or has difficulty completing normal tasks, such jumping onto the couch or climbing stairs.
Types
  • Resting Tremor

    - a back and forth movement in part or all of the body while the muscles are at rest and supported by gravity.

  • Action Tremor

    - a tremor that occurs when a muscle is contracted in a voluntary action. The contraction could just be to maintain a standing position, called a postural tremor, or it could be in order to move a limb called a kinetic tremor. Kinetic tremors are some of the most common in dogs.

  • Twitch

    - a twitch is a movement located in small bands of muscle fibers that can cause a rippling movement under the skin. Unlike tremors they can continue while the animal is asleep.

  • Generalized Tremors

    - a tremor which involves the entire body and seems to be without cause.

  • Cerebellar related tremor

    - a kinetic tremor which is caused by some kind of disease or abnormality in the cerebellum. These often start with the head and can result in balance issues. They do not persist during sleep or under anesthesia.

  • Myoclonus

    - a type of seizure which involves quick involuntary shaking, usually of short duration, with no loss of consciousness.

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Causes of Involuntary Muscle Trembling in Dogs

Similar looking muscle tremors can often have very different causes, so it’s important to examine all the possibilities. Most tremors are the result of a chemical or neurological imbalance in the brain.

  • Hereditary

    - many types of hereditary conditions can cause tremors. One of the most well-known is Generalized Tremor Syndrome which is the result of a congenital condition most common in small breeds like White Terriers and Maltese, although it can occur in any breed. It isn’t always apparent at birth but often appears between the first and second years of a dog’s life. Orthostatic Tremor (OT) is a postural tremor that only affects the dog while standing still. It is found sometimes in breeds of large dogs such as Great Danes and Deerhounds.

  • Drugs and Toxins

    - many drugs and toxins can cause tremors in dogs, including some which are safe for humans such as caffeine. Some drugs prescribed to dogs can also cause tremors as a side effect, so check the medications your dog is taking.

  • Injury to the Brain

    - tremors are often caused by abnormal brain activity. All types of brain injuries including trauma, stroke and brain tumors can cause this.

  • Canine Distemper

    - cerebellar related tremors and myoclonic seizure both occur as part of canine distemper, although this is an unlikely cause if your dog has shots.

  • Age

    - Dogs can sometimes develop tremors as they age, called Physiologic and Essential Tremor Syndrome. These age-related tumors often involve the pelvis, and they can worsen with anxiety or intense emotions. The tremors can be very slight at first, but over time they may progressively worsen and cause balance and coordination problems.

  • Seizure

    - Seizures can look very different on different dogs, so don’t rule them out even if your dog’s signs don’t fit the traditional Grand Mal Seizure. Periods of pronounced shaking in can often be preceded by an initial anxiety period, and a post seizure period of disorientation, confusion, and weakness (see seizure section.)

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Diagnosis of Involuntary Muscle Trembling in Dogs

The veterinarian will perform all regular tests such as blood and urine tests to see if there is any abnormality. He will go over your dog’s family history and medications as well as possible exposure to toxins or contagious diseases. Brain imaging tests such a CT and MRI can determine abnormal brain activity or injury to the brain.

Close observation will help to determine the frequency and duration of your dog’s trembling and if there is a pattern of the cause. This is invaluable information for the veterinarian since involuntary muscle trembling which occurs intermittently or unpredictably can be difficult to diagnose. Sometimes videotaping your dog can help show the veterinarian what an attack looks like if it’s impossible to demonstrate during an office visit. Additional signs such as behavior and appetite changes can also be helpful.

If the veterinarian decides an MRI or CT is necessary this will require another office visit and probably an anesthetic to avoid distress and ensure the test can be carried out.

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Treatment of Involuntary Muscle Trembling in Dogs

The method of treatment will depend largely on the cause of the tremors. Many sources of involuntary muscle trembling cannot be cured, but it is possible to treat the signs and help your dog compensate for the disability.

  • Severe trembling attacks that will not stop should be treated as an emergency. Medications such as diazepam can help to stop the tremors and the veterinarian will also be able to treat the dehydration and hypothermia that result from such a prolonged attack.
  • If the cause is determined to be one of the medications your dog is currently taking, a different medication can be prescribed.
  • If the cause is exposure to a toxin, removing the toxin may be an effective treatment.
  • Some hereditary conditions can be treated or ameliorated with medication, but there is often not a cure for this type of condition. Taking medication for a lifelong condition can also have further complications.
  • Medication can help tremors that are a result of brain injury, but it will depend on the severity. Some tumors can be removed with surgery, but this is risky and may involve further complications.
  • Age-related tremors are difficult to treat. Your dog may be able to take medication to help with the symptoms, depending on the advice of your veterinarian.
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Recovery of Involuntary Muscle Trembling in Dogs

Depending on the cause, some dogs with involuntary muscle trembling can be treated and make a full recovery. Others may be able to lead fulfilling lives with tremors that cause only mild problems. Your veterinarian may recommend specific exercises to practice or movements to avoid. Trembling may prevent your dog from engaging in strenuous exercise, but mild exercise will help with overall health. Try to avoid weight gain as this will further complicate mobility. If this is a problem, discuss an appropriate diet with your veterinarian.

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Involuntary Muscle Trembling Average Cost

From 367 quotes ranging from $1,000 - $6,000

Average Cost

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Written by Darlene Stott

Veterinary reviewed by: Michele K.

Published: 01/19/2016, edited: 03/22/2021

Involuntary Muscle Trembling Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

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Chiuhuahua

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Two Years

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Unknown severity

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5 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Shaking And Can'T Walk

She Has Been Shaking And Can't Walk For 1 Day Already What Are Some Medications And What Caused It??

Feb. 11, 2021

Owner

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Dr. Linda S. MVB MRCVS

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5 Recommendations

I'm so sorry to hear she cannot walk. This is a true emergency and she needs to see a vet urgently. There are several potential causes including a slipped disc, muscle strain, fractured bone, dislocated bone, neurological disorder. We need to run some tests such as a neurological exam and xrays to know what is going on and start the most appropriate treatment.

Feb. 11, 2021

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Australian Shepherd

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One Year

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14 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Shaking

Hi- my one year old Australian Shepard mix sometimes has leg tremors. It’s only one leg at a time but has been all four legs never just the front of back. The tremors happen when his legs are fully extended only, so either standing and one limb will start to shake and be done with in a matter of seconds. Or it has been when he is asleep legs fully extended in the bed and one will involuntary twitch and stop. Just wondering if this is something to be concerned about, he never whines or cries with the tremors.

Dec. 6, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Sara O. DVM

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14 Recommendations

Some dogs legs will tremor and are just fine. If he is not painful and otherwise acting normal I wouldn’t worry.

Dec. 6, 2020

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american c

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Eight Years

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Mild severity

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0 found helpful

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Mild severity

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Shaking

My dog came to me from another room and her body started to coward to the grown and then she fell over starting shaking legs started to tense up and uncontrollably start kickin

Oct. 21, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Gina U. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Hello It sounds like your pup is having a seizure. I recommend that you take him to a veterinarian as soon as possible. Good luck.

Oct. 21, 2020

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Great Dane

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Three Years

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Unknown severity

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5 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Involuntary Twitching

He just randomly twitches sometimes during his sleep which we didn't think was anything, but then randomly his leg starts twitching in his leg while he's sitting and just resting with us awake.

Sept. 28, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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5 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. Large breed dogs like Great Danes are prone to bone and joint diseases, and this may be the first signs of a problem. It would be a good idea to have him examined closely by your veterinarian, as they will be able to assess his bone and joint function and see if there is anything that needs attention or treatment. I hope that all goes well for him.

Oct. 5, 2020

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Chihuahua Pug

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Two Years

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8 found helpful

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Unknown severity

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Shaking With Arms Sticking Upright

My dog was shaking when I picked him up and his arms were stuck straight up in the air next to his head. He is fine now, and there’s no following symptoms like diarrhea or vomiting.

Sept. 28, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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8 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. It is possible that he had a seizure of some sort, although it is difficult for me to say without more information. It would be best to monitor him, and if he has any more of these kinds of episodes, have him seen by a veterinarian. They may want to run some lab work to make sure that he is okay.

Oct. 9, 2020

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Harleyquin

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Great Dane

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10 Months

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Mild severity

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0 found helpful

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Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Twitching Shaking

Hi My 10 month old puppy just tonight her head started twitching and shaking when she was laying on her back and looked up to see my daughter coming down the stairs and it happened a few times but never happened before until tonight. We did take her for a bath this morning. She is sleeping now and hasn't done it while sleeping. But it was just her head while she was awake. When she sleeps her hind legs twitch.

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Samson

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Aspin

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4 Months

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Mild severity

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0 found helpful

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Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Tremors

My dog started to have tremors on his leg 3 days ago. But before that we thought he was injured because he will start to cry and start barking whenever we touched the leg. I did Cold compress(not sure if that is applicable to a dog) but still it was not effective he can't still use his leg to walk and it makes me worried. And then 3 days later which is until today he has already tremors on his leg even when he is at rest and even when he walks(still can't use the leg to walk).

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Loki

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Smooth Fox Terrier

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8 Years

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Moderate severity

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Tremors
Resting Tremors

My Loki's tremors started around the 1.5 years mark. He was a rescue, so his vet's guess when I originally found him he was around 1. he's around 8 years now, and the tremors are always when he's at rest and during sleep. when they started it was just a small section of one of his front legs. it was barely noticeble. now it's more noticeable, usually in one of the whole front legs. in the begining, it was just at rest, but now it's even during sleep. before when I would pet him or rub them it would stop, but it's becoming more pronounced and less controllable (if it ever was). oh, and he has become overweight which I'm sure isn't helping. He is currently on Bravecto and Interceptor, but it started before. none of the meds he's taken had made any difference good or bad...

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Coco

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Pug

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10 Years

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Fair severity

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0 found helpful

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Fair severity

Has Symptoms

Twitching

My dog had symptoms of peripheral vestibular disease a week ago ( ataxia, nystagmus and head tilt). Now only head tilt is still present. A couple of days ago I noticed twitching behind his ear, it stopped after some hours. Today since morning his right shoulder/ neck muscle seems to be twitching even when resting. He’s on Cefixime 400 mg for amid ear infection. Please help. Is this due to muscle strain from head tilt? Otherwise doesn’t seem to be in pain.

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Rocky

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ACD/Labrador mix

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2 Years

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Moderate severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Tremor

I've had my dog, Rocky, since he was 7 weeks old. Within a couple of weeks after getting him, I noticed that he was trembling while resting. I could put my hand on him to reassure him, which seemed to make the tremors stop. He is now 2 years 7 1/2 months old, and the tremors seem to be getting worse, both in frequency and strength. Rocky is an Australian Cattle Dog/Lab Retriever mix. How can I help him with this problem?

Involuntary Muscle Trembling Average Cost

From 367 quotes ranging from $1,000 - $6,000

Average Cost

$2,500

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