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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. There are very effective vaccines that can prevent this disease.  

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Written by a Pugs lover Grace Park

Veterinary reviewed by: Michele K.

Published: 05/11/2017, edited: 04/05/2021

Jolting Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Goldendoodle

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Two Years

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3 found helpful

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Twitching

I woke up because I felt my dog twitching while we was sleeping and it hasn’t stopped. Kinda looks and feels as though he had hiccups...it just won’t stop. It’s been going on now for about 30 minutes.

Feb. 1, 2021

Owner

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Dr. Maureen M. DVM

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3 Recommendations

Hi, Twitching (hiccups)/usually occur as a result of muscle spasms by the diaphragm they can be caused by anxiety, parasites, allergies, eating, or drinking too fast among others. It would a good idea to have the vet check him out to ascertain the main cause of the hiccups. Good luck

Feb. 1, 2021

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yorkie mix

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Two Months

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Unknown severity

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8 found helpful

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My puppy keeps jolting, twitching, dragging his butt and is itching.

Dec. 22, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Sara O. DVM

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8 Recommendations

Hello, this twitching could be seizure activity. It would be best for him to see you vet. The bragging if the bottom could be anal gland issues that your vet can express for you. Some little dogs can be very twitching and this is normal. Without being able to examine him it is hard to tell what is causing him to twitch. You vet will be able to help canine him and quickly determine the cause if the twitching and let you know if this is normal or not.

Dec. 22, 2020

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long haired chihuahua

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One Year

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1 found helpful

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Twitchy And Nervous Acting

Acts really twitchy and nervous.

Nov. 1, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Linda S. MVB MRCVS

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1 Recommendations

Hi there, you are through to Dr Linda. I'm sorry to hear you're having this issue with your Chihuahua. Without examining the dog, it is impossible to know what is going on. Twitching and anxiety can have several causes including stress, allergic skin disease, parasites, a source of pain, a behavioural issue etc. I would bring them to a vet to check them over and determine why this is happening.

Nov. 1, 2020

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Pit Bull

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Twelve Weeks

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Jolting

My dog has had these body jolts ever since we got him at 8 weeks old. They happen around once or twice a day. Its almost like continuous hiccups. But the jolts are not spaced out like I feel hiccups would be in a person. He seems alert and fully functional through the episodes. Any advice would be great. Thanks.

Sept. 28, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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Thank you for your question. Many puppies hiccup, and that is common. It is typically something that they grow out of, and if it continues to be a problem, it might be a good idea to video the episodes and show your veterinarian at your next preventive care appointment. I hope that all goes well for you pup!

Oct. 7, 2020

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Australian Shepherd blue healer mix

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Eight Weeks

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2 found helpful

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Fast Breathing Jolts

I’m just wondering if it’s something to be concerned about he has jolting in his chest stomach area and always is breathing pretty fast

Aug. 7, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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2 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. Puppies breathe a little bit faster than adult dogs, and what your noticing may be normal. If he seems to be bright and happy otherwise, it is probably normal and you should be able to keep an eye on him. If you think that it is not normal or he is having problems, it would be best to have him seen by your veterinarian, as they can examine him and see if he is okay. I hope that all goes well for him.

Aug. 7, 2020

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Yo-yo

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Shih Tzu

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9 Years

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Fair severity

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0 found helpful

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Fair severity

Has Symptoms

Head Trembling
Jolts

Just today, my dog has been experiencing sort of like hiccups but not hiccups. Every time he licks his lips or licks something he begins to “hiccup”, he moves his head to the side in a fast way. Like if he is saying “no”, like he jerks back. I don’t know the cause of this and although it’s been a day, he’s never experienced this. He is an old dog, he’s 9+ years old but he’s always been healthy and never experienced this before or any health problems. I don’t know what to do, should I take him to the vet?

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Luna

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pitbull

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4 Years

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Moderate severity

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1 found helpful

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Moderate severity

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Restless, Jolting, Twitching

I do not know what is wrong with my 4 year old pittbull, she could not rest last night and she had these jolts like hiccups but they weren't hiccups and now that she is trying to rest and go to sleep she is doing it again tonight. I do not have the money for a vet and I love my dog can you please help me, what can I do to help her

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Bauer

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Mutt

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1 Year

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Mild severity

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Mild severity

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Shaking

I have a mixed breed dog that looks like a small skinny black lab/pointer mix. He is an awesome dog and full of love and life. We have noticed two episodes recently that concern us. Our dog will come to us shaking and bobbing his head and the second time we thought to look in his eyes to see his eyes were dilated. He was aware and walking but he looked distressed and worried. The episode lasted for a couple of minutes and then it was over. The first episode was very similar but we didn't think to look into his eyes. Both episodes happened in the evening when he was calm and had been resting. It seems that they may have woken him up. My husband works from home and has never seen this during the day. What seems odd is that our dog seems to be coming to us for help when this happens so other than the possibility that we are all sleeping, I don't think they happen any other times during the day.

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Marley

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Chihuahua

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11 Months

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Moderate severity

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0 found helpful

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Moderate severity

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Jerking
Jolting

I have had my puppy Marley for about 9 months and I have noticed that she will be lying down and suddenly her back half of her body will jerk into the air and she looks very scared when it happens at first we thought she was just playing but we now know she isn’t playing because she gets very upset when it happens but we aren’t sure how much a vet would cost to get it checked currently trying to save up a good amount to take her but at the moment just wanting some assistance

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Pinkie

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Pit bull

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13 Years

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Mild severity

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0 found helpful

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Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Jolting

My Pinkie has had these what i can only describe as internal body hiccups. Not sure what it really is. can be jolting, i am not sure. it happens when she is resting, or at least that is when is most notable.

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