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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. Labrador Retriever Breeds sometimes experience myoclonus in response an auditory stimulus.

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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 symptoms 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 symptoms 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 symptoms 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 is usually 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

$2,500

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Involuntary Muscle Trembling Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Italian Greyhound

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6-8 years

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Unknown severity

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0 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Fluttering

After my dog lays down I can feel a flutter when I touch his back/torso. It happens almost immediately and then when he switches positions or stretches. It is not a visible tremor. It happens when he breathes in for 2-3 seconds. He has a brother that does the same thing. The brother has had at least 2 seizures in the last year. He is on Phenebarbital (sp). The brother also stretches his legs out and kicks during sleep. What is this fluttering. Both have heart murmurs.

Aug. 7, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. It is possible that those are nerve or muscle tremors. If they are not getting worse, I'm not sure that they are worrisome, and it would be a good idea to keep an eye on it. If they are worsening, then having your veterinarian examine him would be a good idea. I hope that all goes well for him.

Aug. 8, 2020

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Jack Russell Terrier

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Six Years

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Unknown severity

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Shaking Back Legs , Occasionlly Won’T Put Weight On Back Left Leg

My 6 year old JRT has always “shaked” when excited. But as he gets older his shaking seems more often and more “violent” he also tends to not put weight on his back left leg and occasionally has a twitch in his front paw.

Aug. 7, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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Thank you for your question. He may have a muscle or joint problem that causes him pain. It is difficult to say what might be going on without examining him, unfortunately. Since this seems to be worsening, it would be a good idea to have him seen by a veterinarian, as they can examine him and see what might be causing the problem. Once they have a better idea what might be going on, they can let you know if there are any treatments that might help. I hope that all goes well for him!

Aug. 8, 2020

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Pit bull mix

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Four Years

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Unknown severity

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1 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Shaking/Tremors, Weak,

When I went to work he was fine when I came home my father inlaw said he wouldn't get up and go outside at all today so when I got him to go outside to use bathroom I notice he could barely stand it took him a couple of trys and he shakes all over or has tremors but he was running outside for a few minute then he just kinda slowed down again I ended up giving him a bath thinking he had insecticide on him and when he got out of tub for me to dry him off he collapsed he is sleeping now and still shaking all over he drinks water and still has an appetite what could be wrong with him I'm really worried

July 31, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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Thank you for your question. He may have a nerve or muscle problem, or a back injury. He may have gotten into a toxin. If he continues to have this problem, it would be best to take him to see a veterinarian. They can examine him and see what might be going on, and get treatment for him so that he feels better. I hope that he is okay.

July 31, 2020

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Bernese Mountain Dog

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Ten Years

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Unknown severity

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0 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Left Leg Shaking And Can’T Put Wait On It

Last night around 1am he started breathing heavy and his left leg started shaking. I tried getting him up but he could not put weight on his left leg what should I do

July 26, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Gina U. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Hello I'm sorry that your pet is not doing well. He may have pulled a muscle or sustained a soft tissue injury. It is also possible that there is a fracture. I recommend that you take him to a veterinarian for an exam. They may want to give some pain medication and take an x-ray. Good luck.

July 26, 2020

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Morkie

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8 weeks

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Unknown severity

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Whole Body Shake Like Heart Beat

Just received morkie and duieng the night when she wakes up and then I calm her to go back to bed she had a shake like a heart beat for about a minute and now its gone (she slept through it)

July 26, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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Thank you for your question. Puppies can sleep quite deeply, and that may have been what you were noticing. If she has tremors, seems lethargic, or her heart rate seems faster than normal, it would probably be best to have her seen by a veterinarian. They would be able to assess her, see if she is healthy, and let you know if you have anything to worry about. If she has these episodes frequently, taking a video of the episode would help your veterinarian to see what's actually going on. I hope that all goes well for your puppy.

July 26, 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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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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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

dog-age-icon

10 Years

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Fair severity

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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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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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