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What is Shivering?

You look over and find your dog shivering, involuntarily trembling.  It is not the regular wiggling of excitement you see when you are about to take him on a walk.  Shivering is more of a twitching of the muscles. There are different reasons that your dog may be shivering such as:

  • Cold weather
  • Overheating/heat stroke
  • Muscle or joint issues
  • Pain 
  • Toxins
  • Neurological issue
  • Addison’s disease 
  • Anxiety

If your pet continues to shiver, even after you cover him with a blanket and you start to notice other symptoms, it is time to take him the veterinarian.  The veterinarian can help determine why your pet is shivering and provide timely care.

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Why Shivering Occurs in Dogs

Reasons for shivering could be:

Cold 

During very cold weather dogs should be not be left outside for lengthy periods of time.  Dogs, like people, are susceptible to hypothermia and frostbite.  

Overheating 

Dogs can suffer heat stroke if left in the sun with no shade, in an extremely hot room or left inside a car.  

Muscle or Joint Issues 

Dogs can strain their muscles during play or exercise and if there is a health issue, the strain can prove even more difficult for a canine.  Joint issues such as arthritis or degenerative joint disease can make a dog shiver.

Pain

Dogs don’t like to show pain. They can be very stoic. The shiver may be a sign that he is experiencing pain, possibly caused by an illness, tooth ache or ear infection.

Toxins 

Exposure to toxins can produce a symptom like shivering. For example, if your dog ingests nicotine, xylitol (sugar substitute), medications, poisonous plants or chocolate he can experience shivering due to the body’s reaction to the substance.

Neurological Issues 

The effect of a brain tumor, a stroke, or encephalitis can cause muscle twitching, which is just one of the symptoms of these serious conditions.

Addison's Disease 

This disease is also referred to as hypoadrenocorticism.  It is a caused by the deficiency of corticosteroid secretions from the adrenal gland and causes trembling.

Anxiety 

Canines can experience anxiety just a humans can. A new home, thunderstorms, fireworks, social situations and other stressful situations may cause your dog to shiver, which is a natural reaction to stress and uncertainty.

What to do if your Dog is Shivering

If your dog is continually shivering, he should be seen by a veterinarian. The veterinarian will give your pet a thorough physical exam and may recommend a few diagnostic tests to help find the underlying cause. Diagnostic tests such as a complete blood count, serum chemistry panel, x-rays, urinalysis and a fecal exam may be suggested. 

Treatment for your pet’s shivering will depend on what the veterinarian determines.  A canine suffering from hypothermia, heat stroke or poisoning may need to be hospitalized in order for the veterinary team to stabilize him. It may be a little scary for him and for you, but in the hospital he will receive 24/7 intensive care. Once your pet is stable, most hospitals will allow visitation. 

Strained muscles may need to be rested and to be iced several times a day.  The veterinarian may also prescribe nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for pain.  Dogs with arthritis may need to lose weight, receive physical therapy (such as hydrotherapy), and be prescribed the supplements glucosamine and chondroitin.

If the veterinarian discovers that your dog has a fractured tooth or loose tooth, he may recommend you bring your pet to a veterinary dentist, who will extract the tooth. Ear infections are usually treated with oral and topical medications. Neurological issues, depending on the condition, may require medications and surgery. Addison's disease may be treated with a medication called desoxycorticosterone pivalate (DOCP).  DOCP has been shown to provide beneficial electrolyte regulation.

If the veterinarian gives your dog a clean bill of health the shivering may be due to anxiety. Dog’s that suffer from anxiety do well on a nutritious balanced diet, regular exercise, play time and consistency at home. Exercise stimulates serotonin production and can offset stress hormones.  There are natural supplements, which contain nutrients and herbal extracts, that may help ease anxiety. An example is Nutri-Calm for dogs.

Prevention of Shivering

Shivering due to heat or cold can be prevented.  Dogs should not be kept outside in severe temperatures, whether it be hot or cold.  Extreme temperature exposure can be fatal to a dog. A dog should not be left in car at any time, the temperature inside your vehicle can rise almost 20º degrees in just 10 minutes. In some states, it is illegal to leave your dog in a car unattended, even for a short amount of time.  On his walks your dog may appreciate wearing a sweater or coat during chilly weather.  If you are taking your dog on long walks or runs on very hot days; it is important that he stays hydrated.

Food, medication and chemicals that are toxic to dogs should be kept inside a closed cabinet where your dog can’t get to them. Just like small children, they need to be protected from getting into toxic products. Additionally, some houseplants can be poisonous to dogs.

Some health conditions cannot be prevented but they can be diagnosed early, which usually leads to a better recovery prognosis.  Dogs should have yearly wellness checks.

Cost of Shivering

Heat stroke can cost a dog owner an average of $5000 depending on the severity of the case, and a veterinarian bill for hypothermia could average around $2000. The expense for treating Addison's disease could be $350 while the treatment for toxicity or poisoning will depend on the type of toxicity and how your pet reacted to the event.