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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.


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 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

Yorkshire Terrier
18 Months
Moderate condition
1 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms


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
675 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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13 Years
Serious condition
0 found helpful
Serious condition

Has Symptoms

Jerking,anxiety, hiding

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

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
675 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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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
2142 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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