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What is Jolting?

If you notice your dog having jolts, spasms, and other sudden and unexplained movements, there may be a physical condition that needs to be addressed. Twitches and tremors can originate from muscle or nerves, and can happen at any time. If these jolts happen while your dog is sleeping, it may only be a physical manifestation of a dream. But if they happen when your dog is awake, there may be another cause. Reasons for such movements can include:

  • Muscle conditions 
  • Brain injuries 
  • Neurological disorders 
  • Dehydration
  • Toxin ingestion
  • Tetanus
  • Genetic disorders 
  • Canine distemper

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Why Jolting Occurs in Dogs

There are many conditions that can cause your dog to jolt.

Muscle Conditions 

Muscle strains, injuries, and malfunctions can cause tremors and ticks just under the skin. A thiamine deficiency can cause problems with muscle function. Muscle contraction disease, or Myoclonus, can cause sudden jerks and seizures.

Brain Injuries 

Tremors can be caused by abnormal activity in the brain. Brain activity can be disrupted as a result of injury, strokes, or brain tumors.

Neurological Disorders 

There are many conditions that disrupt the nervous system, many of which can result in involuntary twitches, such as Shaker’s syndrome, tremor syndromes, and cerebellar disorders. Many of these conditions can result in seizures, involving muscle spasms and jerks, including epilepsy and Lafora’s disease.

Dehydration

If the body loses too much water, it attempts to rebalance water levels by drawing water out of individual cells. This results in a loss of essential electrolytes, which ultimately affects muscle and nerve function. 

Toxin Ingestion

Many prescribed and recreational drugs can cause a toxic reaction that can lead to involuntary jolts. Stimulants, such as caffeine, cocaine, and amphetamines, can produce tremors. The ingestion of many types of toxic plants, molds, mycotoxins, insecticides, pesticides, and other chemicals can also cause a disruption in brain and nerve function. 

Tetanus 

Tetanus is caused by the toxin released from the Clostridium tetani bacteria. The toxin affects the nervous system and causes intermittent muscle contractions, seen as spasms or jolts.

Genetic Disorders

There are many types of hereditary disorders that can result in involuntary tremors. Some affect the nervous system, such as Generalized Tremor Syndrome and Orthostatic Tremor, while others interfere with normal muscle function, as in the case of Myotonia Congenita. Many of these conditions are breed specific.

Canine Distemper 

This is a very contagious viral disease that causes seizures and tremors. Distemper is contracted from contact with an infected animal and is often fatal.

What to do if your Dog is Jolting

If your dog has been suffering from involuntary jerks or jolts, there may be an underlying condition that needs medical help. Your veterinarian can help to determine the cause of your dog’s jolts through a complete medical and symptomatic history, and the results of various tests. Be sure to notify your vet of any recent injuries, exposure to new or sick animals, travel, or behavioral changes.

A physical exam, along with blood and urine testing, will be performed. Your vet may wish to observe your dog over a period of time to assess the length, frequency, and severity of the jolts. Imaging tests can help to reveal an injury or tumor, and can include CT scans and MRIs. An EMG test or muscle and nerve biopsies may be performed to assess their functionality. 

Treatments will depend on the cause of the jolts, and can range considerably. Less severe conditions may need no treatments, while other more serious issues may be prescribed antiepileptic and immunosuppressive medications, muscle relaxants, or pain relievers. Tetanus infections can involve wound debridement and antiviral medication. Fluid and electrolyte therapies, massage, or even surgery to repair damage or remove tumors, may be needed. Hereditary conditions are not always successfully treated and may progress over time.

Prevention of Jolting

While it can be difficult to predict when a neurological disorder or virus can affect your dog, there are some precautions you can take. Keeping your dog safe from sick animals and risky environments can help to prevent exposure to dangerous infectious and toxic agents.

Muscle spasms can be prevented through proper hydration. If you know your dog is affected by a condition that can result in these spasms, ensure he does not overexert himself and remains well hydrated. Routine veterinary check-ups can catch many conditions before they are too far progressed, and may allow you to treat them successfully before they become debilitating. Prevent your dog from contracting distemper by getting him vaccinated.

Cost of Jolting

Costs for treatments can vary, and depend on the condition that is causing your dog’s jolts. While electrolytes, water, and vitamins can be around $10 to $30, serious conditions that need prescribed treatments can range from $200 to $6,500. As an example, myoclonus treatment can reach $3000, while therapy for involuntary muscle trembling may cost $2500.

Jolting Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Pumpkin
Chihuahua
6 Months
Serious condition
0 found helpful
Serious condition

Has Symptoms

Tired and weak

My dog has been twitching for a couple of days and it doesn’t stop she can’t sleep because of it...she can’t walk correct or she will fall..her breath is hot and she seems very weak

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
2479 Recommendations
Given the severity of the symptoms, you should visit your Veterinarian for an examination; without examining Pumpkin myself I cannot determine an underlying cause. Infections, poisoning, dehydration among other causes may lead to similar symptoms but it is important for your Veterinarian to examine Pumpkin to narrow in on a cause and treat as required. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Spencer
chihuahua mix
15 Years
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

hi there! My dog is 15 years old and over the past couple months has started shaking and having spasms when he is standing or laying down. Recently it has gotten worse I think because he just had surgery on his tooth. The shaking only lasts for a couple of seconds, but when it happens he can’t move and he whines like he is in pain. We are going to take him to the vet asap, I just wanted a couple reasons to why this could be happening. Thanks!

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
1057 Recommendations
Spencer may be having joint or nerve pain, or may be developing tremors as he ages. He may have a neurologic or muscular problem. If you are able to video the episodes it will be very helpful for your veterinarian, as he may not have one while he is in his examination. I hope that all goes well for him!

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Cookie
Bichon Frise
12 Years
Mild condition
0 found helpful
Mild condition

Has Symptoms

Jolt

Hi! My dog started jolting two days ago (at night). He jolted around 5 times that night (8-10), but doesn't seem to be in pain.
The jolting seemed to have started after we brought him out to walk that night, and he jumped up to bite a plant (I'm not sure if he strained his back/muscle when he jumped).

The jolting stopped a lot these last two days.
He only jolted twice the entire day yesterday, and once today.

Is there anything we can do and should we bring him to the vet if doesn't seem to be in pain at all?

Thank you!

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
1057 Recommendations
I'm not sure what is causing this jolting behavior for Cookie, but if it continues, it would be a good idea to have him examined by your veterinarian to make sure that nothing is wrong, just in case. I hope he is okay.

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Kai
French Bulldog
1 Year
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Loss of control
Head bobbing
Twitching

My dog when laying down will begin to “twitch” in his legs while bobbing his head upwards, and his legs move outwards when he does this as if to be a kick. It only happens when he lays down, and normally after he is excited and then lays down. He is a 1 year old French bulldog and has been doing this ever since I can remember when we first got him.

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
1057 Recommendations
This behavior may be normal for him, or he may have a muscular or neurologic issue. Since I cannot see him, I'm not sure that I can comment on why he might be doing this, but it would be a good idea to have him examined by a veterinarian to make sure that nothing is happening that needs treatment. If you are able to video the episodes, it would be very helpful for your veterinarian, as Kai most likely won't do that behavior at the clinic.

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Kilo
pit bull terrier
1 Year
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

jerking

Medication Used

none

My pit will get on the bed and jerk before he starts playing with his rope toy. He will also jerk if the other dogs won't play with him. It's almost like he's throwing a tantrum. Don't do it any other time.he lays on his side and will jerk and push u with his feet. He will do it 3 or 4 times then he stops.

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
1057 Recommendations
I'm not sure if the behavior that Kilo is showing is normal for him, or an abnormal sign of a problem. If you are able to video the episodes with your phone, and show them to your veterinarian, they may be able to determine if it is worrisome behavior or not.

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tom
Labrador
13 Years
Serious condition
0 found helpful
Serious condition

Has Symptoms

Fever
Jolting
jerking
Heavy Breathing

my 13 year old Labrador is jolting since 3 days and is suffering from anemia and tick fever. he suffers sudden jerks and keeps whining. he cannot sleep. may i please know the possible ways to make him sleep and rest. thankyou.

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
2479 Recommendations
In these cases, there is no real solution apart from treatment and resolution of the primary condition; your Veterinarian should be treating for tick fever (Ehrlichiosis) already, it is just a case of continuing with any treatment and offering supportive and symptomatic care. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Lexi
Yorkshire Terrier
18 Months
Moderate condition
1 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Jolting

My 18 mo yorkie ,Lexi, is spayed and up to date on all vaccinations. Sudden onset of, restlessness, ( did not sleep for 24 hrs) inconsolable, ( won’t let me hold her) and involuntary, total body jolting.( both awake and at rest) No other health issues, nor exposure to other animals.

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
1057 Recommendations
Thank you for your email. Lexi may be painful, or be having muscle tension, that is bothering her. Without examining her, I can't say for sure, but it would be a good idea to have her seen by your veterinarian, as they can look at her, determine if she needs any medication or what is going on with her, and help her be more comfortable. I hope that everything goes well for her.

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Peach
Dalmatian
13 Years
Serious condition
0 found helpful
Serious condition

Has Symptoms

Jerking,anxiety, hiding
jerking

My 13 year old Dalmatian suffers from a jerking or jolting which comes off and on almost daily. She is being seen by my vet for severe anxiety/dementia, but he does not know what the jerking is. He suggested I may need to take her to a neurologist. Just trying to get more info before I take that step.
Thank you
Joyce

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
1057 Recommendations
Thank you for your email. Without knowing more about Peach's specific health status and signs, I have a hard time commenting on what might be causing the jolting behavior. Sometimes dogs do have brain changes as they age that make them do some strange things, and whether you decide to see a specialist may depend on how much the behavior affects her life, if you think that she is suffering or is painful, and whether it is something that seems to bother her. If you do decide to see the neurologist, it would be best to follow your veterinarian's advice on that. I hope that everything goes well for her.

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Pebbles
West Highland White Terrier
16 Years
Mild condition
0 found helpful
Mild condition

Why does my senior dog "startle" with rain drops, flickering sun shadows in the car, movements towards her, etc. I let her out to the potty & it was sprinkling. As the rain drops would hit her, she would "startle" & fall. On a drive in the car, as the sun shadows flickered through the trees, she "startles". Startling is the only way I know to describe it.

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
2479 Recommendations
It is difficult to say what the specific cause may be, but as I am unable to examine Pebbles I will suggest that she may be going blind which would make the outside world (outside from her home) more unpredictable and confusing; the environment inside the home is controlled and wouldn’t change much. Blindness in dogs is gradual and many owners do not realise it is occurring until a dog goes completely blind; have your Veterinarian perform an ophthalmic exam on her to see if anything comes up. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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