The question below was featured in the Spring 2018 issue of On Call, the magazine for friends of the UW School of Veterinary Medicine. This expert response comes from Sandi Sawchuk, primary care veterinarian at UW Veterinary Care and SVM clinical instructor, and Helena Rylander, clinical associate professor and board-certified specialist in veterinary neurology.
Please send them to our On Call magazine editor at firstname.lastname@example.org. We cannot guarantee responses to all submissions. For any urgent pet health issue, please contact your veterinarian directly.
Puzzled by Dog’s Tremors
Question: Sometimes my dog’s legs shake and tremble. It doesn’t seen to bother his attitude or activity, but I’ve always wondered why he might be doing it. – Mary Jo Koranda, Sun Prarie, Wis.
Answer: Shaking or tremors in dogs can have multiple causes that can generally be ruled in or out by a thorough physical examination by your veterinarian, followed by lab work if indicated.
Cold and fear generally cause whole body tremors that disappear when the dog relaxes in a warm environment. Pain – stemming from the muscles, joints, or nerves, such as with chronic disc disease – can also cause intermittent tremoring of a limb, especially in combination with exercise or exertion.
For older patients with some muscle atrophy, perhaps secondary to disuse due to arthritis, just the act of standing for a short period of time may bring on some limb tremors because of muscle fatigue.
Although uncommon, electrolyte abnormalities, calcium imbalance, some infectious diseases, and breed-related conditions of the nervous system can cause tremors, which is why your veterinarian may want to run some lab tests.
Some breeds have age-related tremors of unknown cause, which would be the diagnosis if a thorough examination and testing fail to reveal an underlying problem. Tremors of unknown cause are benign, though we recommend re-evaluation if they worsen over time.
Testing can also be helpful if pain medications are being considered as a therapeutic treatment.