Does your small dog tremble, shiver or shake? This behaviour is characteristic of small dogs, and it’s normally no reason to be alarmed. Here are a few things your dog might be trying to tell you when they have the jitters:
Small dogs get cold more easily than larger dogs. They have a higher ratio of skin to overall body volume, so they lose more heat through the surface of their skin. Dogs, like people, shiver when they are cold. This is an uncontrollable bodily response that helps them burn off energy and raise their body temperature. It’s helpful to put a sweater on your dog or wrap them in a blanket. You can even use your own body heat to stop the shivering, just bring your pup close for a snuggle.
They’re anxious or scared
When your small dog trembles due to nervousness, you’ll typically see their ears pinned back, and they may avoid whatever is bothering them. Your dog might be afraid of a guest in your home, or the sounds of thunder or fireworks. If you have only recently adopted your dog, they may not yet be comfortable in your home, and the trembling should subside in a few weeks. The scent of lavender is calming to dogs, you can place a drop of lavender oil on their bedding or Medipet Natural Calming Spray to create a soothing environment. A dog’s nose is up to 10,000 times more sensitive than a human’s, so aromatherapy works best in tiny doses.
They can’t contain their anticipation
If your dog is trembling while staring off into the distance, they can probably see, smell or hear a squirrel, maybe thousands of metres away. Your dog may also tremble in the car and when you’re about to go for a walk.
Their blood sugar is low
Small dogs are particularly prone to hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar. Take extra care with dogs under 3 months old, as their bodies may not yet be able to properly regulate their blood sugar levels. A mild episode of hypoglycemia can cause symptoms like trembling, weakness and lethargy and severe episodes can cause seizures. If you suspect that your dog is shaking because of low blood sugar, especially if it has been many hours since they have eaten, or they have been very active, you can offer them some food. Hypoglycemia can sometimes cause a lack of appetite, so you may need to rub a small amount of something sweet (for example, honey or plain vanilla ice cream) on their gums. Small breed puppies should eat at least 3 times per day. Small adult dogs can have a treat or snack between meals to keep their blood sugar level stable.
They need to go out
Sometimes trembling is caused by an intense need to pee or poo. If your dog is whimpering, trying to get your attention, and scratching at the door, they probably need to go outside. Some dogs will refuse to go out when it’s raining or snowing, all while trembling and looking absolutely miserable. Your dog may simply need a raincoat, or for you to walk them outside while holding an umbrella. As a last resort, you may want to put down wee-wee pads. Small dogs are notoriously harder to house-train than larger dogs, and may have trouble holding their bladder and bowels for extended periods of time. Cleaning up a pad may be preferable to an accident or putting your dog at risk for a urinary tract infection.
When is trembling a sign of something more serious?
If your dog seems to have especially persistent or unusual trembling patterns, it’s best to see a veterinarian for further assistance. Head tilting, disorientation, apparent dizziness and uncontrollable eye movements are all signs that, when associated with trembling, can indicate a neurological disorder such as White Dog Shaker Syndrome, which is prevalent in breeds like the Maltese or West Highland White Terrier, though any type of dog can be affected.
Dogs can also tremble when they are in pain. If your dog is hunched over, avoids being touched, has a glassy look in their eyes, or otherwise seems unwell, you’ll need to observe them to see if you can find the source of the pain. Any unusual behaviour that persists for more than 12 hours, or seems alarmingly severe, should be brought to your veterinarian’s attention. If it’s after-hours, see an emergency vet.