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Key takeaways

Muscle tremors in dogs are involuntary, repetitive, rhythmic muscle movements.

  • Muscle tremors range in presentation from slow to rapid and from mild to debilitating
  • Tremors can involve the whole body or can be localized to a specific region
  • Causes include neurological disease, toxin exposure, metabolic disease, or infectious diseases
  • Diagnosing the underlying cause involves physical examination, blood work, diagnostic imaging, and specialized testing for particular diseases
  • Treatment varies depending on the underlying cause and may include muscle relaxants, pain medications, and sedatives
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A closer look: Muscle tremors in Dogs

There are different types of tremors:

  • Resting Tremor: occurs when the muscles are resting and are supported by gravity
  • Action Tremor: occurs when the muscle contracts as part of a voluntary action
  • Twitch: a rippling movement under the skin caused by the twitching of bands of muscle fibers
  • Generalized Tremors: a tremor without an obvious cause and involves the whole body
  • Brain-related tremor: a kinetic tremor, usually of the head, associated with the brain

If muscle tremors have been developing over time, notes of when, how strong, duration, and possible triggers, along with a video of the dog during a bout of muscle tremors, help guide diagnosis of the potential cause.

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Possible causes

Many medical conditions can cause muscle tremors, depending on which muscle is affected and the health and age of the affected dog.
Associated conditions include neurological disease, toxin exposure, endocrine/metabolic disease, and infectious diseases.

Note: While seizures are not muscle tremors, some types of seizure activity can look like muscle tremors. Specifically, an occurrence of myoclonus - a type of seizure of short duration, without loss of consciousness - appears similar to muscle tremors.

Risk factors

The exact prevalence of muscle tremors in dogs is unknown. A dog who suddenly develops persistent, involuntary muscle tremors needs EMERGENCY care, as sudden onset of muscle tremors may indicate serious blood sugar or calcium deficiencies. Sudden muscle tremors are also a sign of poisoning, especially if accompanied by diarrhea and/or vomiting.

Mild tremors rarely indicate serious disease or medical conditions. Violent or debilitating tremors usually indicate neuromuscular disease that require vet care. Most dogs twitch intermittently during sleep, which appears similar to mild tremors and is not a cause of medical concern.

Testing and diagnosis

The diagnostic approach for a dog with muscle tremors varies depending on the severity of the tremors. Typical tests, when warranted, include:

  • Physical examination
  • Blood tests
  • Tests for specific infectious diseases like canine distemper or other viruses/bacteria
  • Diagnostic imaging
  • Specialized testing for brain and muscular disorders
  • Therapeutic trial with steroids for shaker syndrome; if the dog’s tremors respond to treatment, then the diagnosis is confirmed

If all known causes have been ruled out, the tremors are considered idiopathic, meaning the cause is unknown.

If the vet determines the underlying cause of the muscle tremors, they treat the cause. While many causes of muscle tremors cannot be cured, vets prescribe pain medications, muscle relaxants, or sedatives to reduce occurrence and severity of muscle tremors themselves.

Similar symptoms

Associated symptoms


Wendy Brooks, DVM, DABVP - Writing for Veterinary Partner
Dr. Bari Spielman - Writing for PetPlace
Malcolm Weir, DVM, MSc, MPH; Catherine Barnette, DVM - Writing for VCA Animal Hospitals
Mark T. Troxel, DVM, DACVIM (Neurology) - Writing for Differential Diagnosis

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