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What is Flinching?

There can be many things that can cause your dog to begin flinching. Flinching is a quick and nervous movement of the face or body and is an instinctual reaction to fear, surprise or pain.  When your dog is sleeping, it is natural for them to flinch as they dream, just as humans will do. You may notice your dog flinching when they are startled or when they are experiencing pain. Many times, a dog that flinches when you move your hand near them will indicate that they have been mistreated at some point and have not forgotten the incident. Lack of proper socialization or a naturally shy personality can also cause your dog to flinch or startle easily when in strange or stressful situations. Causes of why your dog is flinching include:

  • Lack of socialization
  • Naturally shy personality
  • Disorientation
  • Pain
  • Seizures 
  • Vision problems

Dogs that are flinching from disorientation, pain, seizures or vision problems will need to be seen by your veterinarian to determine the cause and course of treatment. Many people mistake a mild seizure as normal flinching or twitching, however, seizures are many times caused by neurological disorders and will need to be treated and closely monitored.

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Why Flinching Occurs in Dogs

It should be alarming to you if you notice your dog flinching often. If flinching away from you in shyness or fear, you will need to work with a canine behaviorist to help your dog become more confident and less fearful. Medical conditions such as pain, disorientation, seizures and vision problems should be treated by your veterinarian and closely monitored during treatments.

Lack of Socialization

Puppies must have proper socialization to grow into confident adult dogs. Puppies that have not had positive experiences with people, other dogs or objects will be fearful and unwilling to enjoy new experiences. As a puppy grows, it is good for them to experience new situations and learn how to handle themselves when seeing something new. Dogs lacking in socialization will flinch away from these new situations or actions.

Shy Personality

There are some dogs that are simply shy or have a softer nature. They are not as willing to face new situations head on and it is not because of a lack of socialization. These dogs will startle easily and not feel confident in new situations. You will notice them flinching when there are unexpected movements towards them. 


Dogs can become disoriented for a number of reasons. When your dog is disoriented, they will flinch away from objects and even you because they are unsure what is happening to them. Be cautious when you approach a dog that is disoriented or acting strangely and contact your veterinarian immediately for an appointment, there could be a serious underlying condition causing your dog to flinch and be disoriented.


Pain in general can cause flinching in your dog. Arthritis pain can cause your dog to involuntarily flinch when they move or when touched. Pain in the jaw or tooth can cause your dog to flinch away from your hand if you are reaching for their head or muzzle. If you suspect your dog is flinching from being in pain, have your veterinarian conduct a physical examination to determine the cause. 


Many times a mild seizure will cause flinching and tremors and you may not even realize that your dog has just experienced a seizure. A seizure is an involuntary, temporary disturbance of the brain’s function. Seizures can cause permanent damage to your dog and should be quickly treated by your veterinarian. 

Vision Problems

Dogs that are experiencing vision problems may be flinching away from things that they cannot clearly see. This is especially true for dogs that are suffering from cataracts or PRA, progressive retinal atrophy. Dogs with cataracts will begin to see cloudy images and eventually can go blind from the cataracts. Dogs with PRA will see things begin to dim and fade and will eventually go blind.

What to do if your Dog is Flinching

If your dog is flinching because they have had a lack of socialization or are just naturally shy you may want to consult with a canine behaviorist. The canine behaviorist will be able to teach you how to use positive reinforcement to show your dog how to be a more confident canine. 

Dogs that are suffering from disorientation or pain will need to undergo routine testing such as complete blood count, biochemistry panel, urinalysis and fecal exam. Your veterinarian will need to first determine what exactly is causing your dog to exhibit signs of being disoriented or in pain. Once your veterinarian has found the cause, then treatments can begin.

Dogs that are diagnosed with seizures will require a specialized treatment plan that is ongoing. Your veterinarian will put your dog on medication and sshedule check ups to ensure that the medication is doing its job and stopping the seizures. 

Some dogs that are diagnosed with cataracts are good candidates for surgical removal. In most of these cases vision is restored and your dog will live a normal life. Other dogs will have their cataracts closely monitored and may require medication to slow the progression of the cataract. Dogs diagnosed with PRA will eventually go blind from the disease. Speak with your veterinarian about helping your dog adjust to their vision impairment.

Prevention of Flinching

While it may be difficult to prevent some medical conditions, there are steps that can be taken to ensure that your dog lives a healthy, happy life. Regular check ups are very important and it is just as important to visit your veterinarian if you notice something odd, either physical or behavioral.

Dogs that are naturally shy or are lacking socialization can become well-adjusted and confident dogs with the guidance of a canine behaviorist or a professional dog trainer.

Cost of Flinching

Treatments for disorientation will vary depending on the underlying cause and can be anywhere from $300 to $2500. Treatments for seizure disorders will average about $1500. Dogs that are diagnosed with cataracts can be treated, but it can be expensive with costs ranging from $300 to $3000.

Flinching Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Golden Retreiver
10 Years
Mild condition
1 found helpful
Mild condition

My dog has started flinching when I try to touch her and even when I don't. She is also shaking irregularly and nodding her head. She is not very responsive but is not completely unresponsive and she keeps trying to go to sleep. I am really worried and no vet is open at the moment, What do i do?

Callum Turner
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
1808 Recommendations
There are a few possible causes including ear infections, neck or back pain, other sources of pain, vision loss, neurological conditions among other causes; it is important to let Roxy sleep and monitor her for the time being, make notes of any other behaviour or triggers (noise, light etc…). Make sure that she is at least drinking and staying hydrated. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

Yes I left water out for her but she will not stand up to get it.

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