Q: Every few months my Cavalier King Charles spaniel does this odd thing where she curls up into a ball and shivers all day. I’ve taken her to our vet, but they can’t find anything wrong. (She shakes at the vet’s, too.) Why does she do this?
A: Shivering happens a lot in dogs. Involuntary quivering occurs when they’re fearful, agitated, painful, cold or suffering from any one of many conditions that can result in tremors (such as seizure disorders and exposure to toxins, among others).
As you can probably imagine given your own personal human experience, there are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of problems that can lead to what we might describe as trembling and shaking in our pets. That’s probably why your veterinarian hasn’t been able to put a finger on the problem.
Nonetheless, there are some rules of thumb we can apply when sorting out what ails our trembling and shaking pets:
1) Pets who suffer from behavioral (psychological) causes of trembling and shaking tend to shake in a generalized manner. In other words, their whole body appears to be involved.
2) Pets who shake in a localized manner (one limb or the head, for example) are more likely to suffer from neurological or muscular issues.
When faced with a trembling pet, veterinarians will ask themselves whether it’s the result of something primarily physical. Here are the most common physical causes of trembling and shaking:
▪ Pain, especially acute (sudden onset) pain
▪ Anesthesia, toxins and drug reactions
▪ Shock (post-trauma, for example)
▪ Neurologic diseases
▪ Muscular diseases
Thankfully, most pets can be diagnosed as suffering from either physical or behavioral issues based on circumstantial evidence. For example, if there are fireworks or thunderstorms afoot, or if she’s at the vet’s, then yeah, she’s probably just really scared.
However, all pets who suddenly start shaking for no apparent reason should be seen by a veterinarian, especially if the shaking and trembling are accompanied by other troubles (diarrhea, vomiting, lethargy, poor appetite, limping or fever, for example).
In your dog’s case, her breed’s predisposition to spinal disk problems would suggest that neck or back pain should be ruled out as a possible cause. Indeed, back pain and gastrointestinal upset are probably the two most common physical causes of shivering in pets. Ask your veterinarian for an evaluation of her spine or maybe even a referral to a neurologist. Best of luck!
Dr. Patty Khuly has a veterinary practice at Sunset Animal Clinic in South Miami. Her website is drpattykhuly.com. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.