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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

$2,500

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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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Chowpit

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Eight Years

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Unknown severity

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2 found helpful

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Unknown severity

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Noisy Breathing, Shaking, Lameness

My 8.5 yr old Chow Pit mix was a street dog for the first 4 yrs of her life. When I got her we treated her for severe heartworm disease. Now she snorts & breathes heavy while laying down & her back legs tremor & shake. She often chews on her front feet & limps on her back legs. She alternates between using just the left or right back leg and will bunny hop at times. She usually tries to stand to eat alternating legs & then lays down or gives up on eating. My vet is trying to convince me that her pain isn't too bad & that fish oil & losing 7 or 8 pounds will help. Is it her time?

Sept. 25, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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2 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. I apologize for the delay, this venue is not set up for urgent emails. From your description, she does sound very painful, and it is common for larger dogs to have arthritis and joint pain as they age. While most OTC medications are quite toxic to dogs, there are many very safe medications, like Carprofen, that your veterinarian can prescribe for her to help her. Many dogs do very well on these medications for years. It would be best to have your pet seen by a veterinarian, as they can examine them, see what might be going on, and get any testing or treatment taken care of that might be needed.

Oct. 20, 2020

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Labrador Retriever

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Five Years

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Unknown severity

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Unknown severity

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Don'T Bear Weight On Back Leg Especially Left Leg

There is problem with back legs.weight is 32 kg.But when I make him stand at one place the legs start trembling.starts barking showing he is in discomfort.while urinating also it does not raise its leg.earlier I think the problem was with left leg but now it's both the legs.gave him calcium and vitamin which improved condition but he had an episode of stomach upset with lots of loose motions and he recovered from them the leg problem again worsened.He does not get any fits and has excellent appetite.please guide me

Sept. 25, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. I apologize for the delay, this venue is not set up for urgent emails. Dogs can develop joint and muscle pain as they age, and It would be best to have your pet seen by a veterinarian, as they can examine them, see what might be going on, and get any testing or treatment taken care of that might be needed.

Oct. 21, 2020

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Italian Greyhound

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6-8 years

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1 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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1 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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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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0 Recommendations

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 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

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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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1 Recommendations

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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Buster

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Boston terrior

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8 Years

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Fair severity

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Fair severity

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Whimpering, Bloodshot Eyes, Pacing

My boston terrior which is 8 years old keeps laying down and getting up and pacing and whimpering and her muscles are twitching and her eyes are very bloodshot is has been happening since yesterday I have no clue what is wrong some people say stress but I have no clue..

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Percy

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Poodle

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5 Years

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Moderate severity

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Moderate severity

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Sneezing
Allergies

We have a poodle chihuahua mix. He is about 5 years old. He is having almost daily events where his bottom bobs up and down and his hind legs bend. It looks like he is about to poop, but he is bobbing up and down and walking in circles. It lasts under a minute and then he goes on like nothing happened, but it is very concerning!

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Boo

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Bloodhound

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6 Years

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Mild severity

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Mild severity

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Intermittent Hind Leg Tremor

My bloodhound has had left rear leg tremors from time to time while exercising. This has occurred over the last six years. As soon as I touch/rub the leg, the tremor stops. The tremor can be near the start of exercise (exercise off lead) or any time during. He does have C2 C3 stenosis which was discovered by accident. I have not had an MRI done on his hindquarters. Do I ignore or need to worry and work on doing some testing.

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Luna

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Shih Tzu and Chihuahua Mix

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9 Weeks

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Serious severity

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Serious severity

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I started to notice that my puppy, of nine weeks old, leg's started to twitch. It is all four of her legs and she moves around trying to find a place to sleep but then she gets up and moves around. She doesn't take any medications, and this just started today in the morning. Her twitching doesn't seem to stop when she is walking or sleeping or eating and it just continues. She hasn't had anything like this before. She is still eating well and is hydrated. Also, every time her legs are twitching she cries a bit and licks her paws. However, she doesn't seem to mind me touching her paws. Even when I hold her she still twitches her legs. I don't know what to do and I'm not sure if I should wait to take her to the vet because there aren't any vets around me that are open now or if there is something I can do to help her.

Involuntary Muscle Trembling Average Cost

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

Average Cost

$2,500

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