Scared and Shaking in Dogs

Veterinary reviewed by: Dr. Linda Simon, MVB MRCVS

Why is my dog scared and shaking?

Veterinary reviewed by: Dr. Linda Simon, MVB MRCVS

Why is my dog scared and shaking?

What is Scared and Shaking?

Dogs will have normal stress responses that are healthy. These can include startling briefly when a loud noise occurs or being weary when approached by a stranger. Normal stress responses that last only a short time are nothing for dog owners to be concerned about. When your dog exhibits signs of maladaptive stress responses this is when you should be concerned. Maladaptive stress responses are chronic and/or long-term anxiety or phobias to some form of stress such as loud noises or strangers. Maladaptive stress responses can cause physical illness and emotional distress for your dog.

If the onset of acting scared and shaking comes on quickly and your dog has never acted in this manner, you should do a thorough check of your dog to determine if something has simply scared them or if there is an underlying problem that needs to be addressed by your veterinarian. Some things that can cause your dog to act scared and shake include:

  • Anxiety
  • Toxic poisoning
  • Pain
  • Joint or muscle problems
  • Neurological conditions 
  • Viruses

Why Scared and Shaking Occurs in Dogs

There are so many reasons your dog could be acting scared and shaking. If this is normal behavior for your dog, you may want to consult a canine behaviorist or a professional dog trainer to learn how to boost your dog’s confidence and teach them how to deal with their anxiety and stress. 

Anxiety

If this is something that just started, you will need to do an assessment of your dog and their environment to determine if the cause is medical or if it is environmental. Strong storms, loud noises or strangers in the home can be environmental factors that can cause your dog to be anxious for a time. Do not feed into your dog’s anxiety, but do reassure them that all is well.

Toxic Poisoning

Dogs that are suffering from toxic poisoning may exhibit signs of being scared and shaking. Dogs cannot reason as to why they feel bad and therefore may seem scared when they are ill from a toxin to which they have been exposed. Common toxins that dogs get into include xylitol, chocolate and nicotine. 

Pain

Pain can also cause your dog to act scared and shake. Pain in their back, neck or abdomen can be especially scary for them as can pain that limits their mobility. Joint and muscle pain, such as degenerative joint disease or arthritis can cause your dog to shake and act as though they are fearful. Some dogs will lash out when they are in pain because they fear that they will be hurt more by those trying to help them. 

Neurological Conditions

Neurological conditions such as seizures, viruses (such as Distemper) can cause your dog to act scared and shake. Neurological conditions cause involuntary shaking and seizing which can be very scary for your dog and cause them to show fear and to shake uncontrollably. 

If you suspect your dog is suffering from a medical condition that is causing them to act scared and shake, you need to contact your veterinarian for an appointment.

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What to do if your Dog is Scared and Shaking

You will need to decide if a trip to your veterinary clinic is needed. If you suspect that your dog is suffering from some medical condition, call your veterinarian and ask if they feel your dog should be seen immediately or if you should monitor the situation for a bit before bringing them into the clinic. 

Should your dog need medical attention, your veterinarian will do a full assessment to determine the cause. Correctly diagnosing the cause will be paramount in determining the appropriate treatment plan for your dog. Your veterinarian will want to conduct several different tests to rule out possible causes and to confirm their initial diagnosis. 

Medications and other therapies may be prescribed depending on the diagnosis. Always follow dosing instructions for any medications prescribed for your dog. Watch your dog closely for any side effects to the medications and report to your veterinarian if your dog suffers significant problems with their medications. Dogs suffering from arthritis or neurological disorders may require long-term treatment plans to manage their pain and other symptoms. 

Dogs that are suffering from anxiety or maladaptive stress responses may also be given natural or prescription remedies to help them overcome their anxiety. Dog behaviorists may be able to give you training tips and other guidelines to help your dog become less anxious and more able to handle the stresses that they are exposed to.

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Prevention of Scared and Shaking

It can be stressful to dog owners to see their dog acting scared and shaking. Determining the cause of the behavior can sometimes be frustrating and futile without seeking the advice of your veterinarian. If the behavior comes on suddenly, you should stop and assess the situation starting with the environment. Ask yourself if anything has changed in the home to cause your dog to become fearful.

If there is no apparent environmental cause for your dog to become scared and shake, then you should do a hands-on assessment of your dog, watching for any signs that your dog is in pain or ill. Be sure to seek veterinary care for your dog if you suspect that the cause of their acting scared and shaking is medically related.

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Cost of Scared and Shaking

Dog behaviorists and professional dog trainers can be employed to help your dog deal with their anxiety. Generally, a behaviorist or trainer will cost $50-$75 per session. Medical conditions such as pain management for arthritis can cost around $1600. Neurological disorders can generally be treated for $3000.

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Worried about the cost of treating your pet's symptoms?

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Scared and Shaking Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

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Georgian Shepherd, Lab, Wolf

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Four Years

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2 found helpful

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2 found helpful

Has Symptoms

Fearful, Hiding

My 4 year old male has twice now had anxious/fearful behaviors that quite literally happened in a second. Both times it's happened the only common denominator is that it started in the computer room. When it happens he gets super timid, getting low to the ground and in the end bolting for his kennel where he hides. If he can't get to his kennel he wraps himself around me as much as he can and is just terrified. He isn't aggressive. Outside of the few occasions this has occured he's his regular outgoing self that I've had since he was a puppy. Due to job losses from Covid he is late on his boosters

Jan. 21, 2021

Owner

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Dr. Linda S. MVB MRCVS

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2 Recommendations

I'm sorry to hear about this issue. As it has happened in one location we would have to assume there is something worrying him there. I would consider a sound or smell that is too subtle for humans to detect such as a plane or fireworks in the distance, mice under the floorboards, another animal outside etc. For now, try to keep him out of this room to see if the behaviour stops. Consider also some calming supplements and a pheromone plug in to see if this helps.

Jan. 21, 2021

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jack

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Five Years

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0 found helpful

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0 found helpful

Has Symptoms

My dog is acting really scared and his eyes is black and cloudy and he want let me touch him

Dec. 7, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Thank you for your question, I'm sorry that your dog is having problems. It is difficult to say without being able to see him, but it sounds like he may be blind or not able to see. It would be best to have him seen by a veterinarian as soon as possible, as they can examine him and his eyes, and see what treatment might be available for him so that he feels better again.

Dec. 7, 2020

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