Why do my dogs back legs shake uncontrollably every now and then (or all the time)? Discussed are some of the most common causes of dog back legs shaking along with other symptoms such as panting, lethargy, etc. and common treatment approaches for the same.
Back Leg Shaking on Dogs
- Back Leg Shaking on Dogs
- Common Symptoms
- About Muscle Tremors
- General Treatment
- Root Causes and Specific Treatments for Back Leg Shaking
- Stress and Anxiety
- Muscle Weakness
- Demyelinating Disorder
- Kidney Disease
- Addison’s Disease
- Old Age
- Electrolyte/Mineral Imbalance
- General Tremor Syndrome
- Canine Distemper
- Inflammatory Brain Disease
- Medication Reaction
- Anal Sacs
- Nervous System Disorders
- Spinal Injuries
- Diagnostic Options for Back Leg Shaking on Dogs
- Physical Exam
- Neurological Exam
- Spinal Fluid Check
- Wrap Up
Dogs do all sorts of weird things, which are often completely natural, and sometimes it’s hard to distinguish the normal from clues of a serious condition. Persistent back leg shaking on dogs can be an indicator of a severe problem.
Shaking of the back legs in your dog is relatively straightforward. You will observe your dog, and seemingly out of nowhere, the shakes start. However, these shakes are localized to his or her back legs. The movements may be small or massive.
About Muscle Tremors
Healthline differentiates between spasms, twitches, and tremors. While initially, they may sound like the same thing, the difference is essential when diagnosing your best friend. If possible, try to keep track of the duration to share with your vet.
A muscle spasm is the contraction of a muscle and is wholly involuntary. In humans, charley horses are a typical example. Meanwhile, a muscle twitch is a fine movement of part of a muscle. These twitches are not generally painful.
A tremor specifically is an uncontrollable rhythmic movement. These involuntary actions are further subdivided into types. The first are resting tremor, which goes away once your dog begins moving. The second is an action tremor, which occurs when your dog moves his or her back legs. Action tremors can be further divided.
The first type of action tremor is a movement, where a specific movement of a particular limb causes your dog’s tremors to start. Then there are postural tremors, where holding a limb against gravity causes the shaking. A task-specific tremor would begin if your dog’s back legs started shaking every time they ate. The fourth is kinetic, where any movement through the body part can kick one off. The last is isometric, which occurs when the muscle is moved alone.
Tremors can also be classified by appearance and cause. However, since you’re reliant on your dog’s behavior for the initial diagnosis, these are not as helpful. Additionally, there is a significant overlap with the above discussion.
Unfortunately, your dog’s back leg shaking can be attributed to any number of causes, all with varying treatments. Often, the shaking is a symptom of something bigger, rather than a solvable problem on its own.
While you’re waiting for your veterinary appointment, you can encourage your dog to rest and remain hydrated. Note down any occurrences of the shaking and what your dog was doing around that time.
Root Causes and Specific Treatments for Back Leg Shaking
Stress and Anxiety
For many dogs, stress and anxiety can cause a myriad of medical conditions. Back leg shaking is no exception. In many cases, your dog is wound up for one reason or another. This excitement or fear can go to overwhelming levels, triggering releases of stress hormones.
Shaking legs is often accompanied by other signs of anxiety such as panting, hiding under the bed and other confined spaces, panting, and biting on items e.g. furniture. Your dog may also show signs of aggression such as growling. Sudden peeing in the house is also not uncommon.
The AKC recommends a variety of treatments, depending on the cause. Options include medication, which may cause side effects. In some situations of stress, dogs can be desensitized or trained around the cause of anxiety as well. In the beginning, though, it’s up to you and your vet to identify what’s causing your dog’s stress and anxiety.
Nausea is is a symptom that isn’t easy to communicate, and can be a cause of change of behavior. There are many of causes of nausea in dogs, from motion sickness to eating something that didn’t agree with them. It can also be a sign of a more consequential condition, like kidney disease.
Apart from vomiting, signs of nausea rely primarily on your understanding of what is healthy for your dog. He or she may hide more, in addition to yawning more. Other symptoms may include listlessness, lip-smacking, and salivating. The shaking also may not be localized to the back legs.
The treatment for nausea depends on what’s causing your dog’s issue, according to Pet Place. If it’s dietary, then swapping food is an easy fix. However, if it’s an underlying condition, treating that will help immensely. If neither of those are true, your local vet may begin your dog on medication.
If you believe your dog ate something toxic, call poison control immediately.
Just like in humans, sometimes dogs overexert themselves. This exertion is especially prevalent in the rear legs, which propel your dog forward to chase things in the yard. It’s similar to what happens when you push yourself during your exercise.
Often, a dog experiencing muscle weakness in the back legs will stop shaking once allowed to rest, according to Vet Street. Symptoms should still be referred to a veterinary professional to ensure they do not signal an underlying problem for your dog.
Demyelinating disorders may be genetic, or they may be the result of an in-utero infection. In a demyelinating disorder, the sheaths around the nerves are too thin or non-existent.
There are two categories of demyelinating disorders, according to the Merck Veterinary Manual. Hypomyelination is thin myelin sheaths around nerve axons, which can impede nerve function. Dysmyelinating disease is thin myelin sheaths rife with abnormalities and missing myelin in the sheaths. There is also demyelination, which is the loss of previously healthy myelin.
Hypomyelination and dysmyelinating disease are generally visible in young animals, beginning around two weeks of age. Often, the symptoms correct themselves by the time the dog is two. If your dog has one of these, then it’s a matter of working with your vet to ensure there is no permanent damage.
If your dog is experiencing demyelination, then there is limited time to correct the underlying issue.
General pain may also be a cause of your dog’s back leg tremors. According to Brook-Falls Veterinary Hospital, it’s one of the most common causes. The pain could be located in a muscle, bone, joint, or nerve.
Pain in dogs requires an understanding of the cause to treat. If your furry friend landed wrong while catching a tennis ball, your vet might prescribe antiinflammatory medication and rest to promote recovery. However, for a chronic condition like arthritis, your vet will work with you on a more complex plan.
Another possible cause of your dog’s back leg shakes is kidney disease. In kidney disease, and especially if your dog reaches kidney failure, the kidneys can no longer filter the blood properly. The impurities that build up then wreak havoc around your dog’s body.
According to Pet Health Network, kidney disease may present with lethargy, vomiting, reduced appetite, increased thirst, and weight loss. There may be a loss of urination control and oral ulcers. A vet can better assess symptoms.
If kidney disease is causing the shakes, your vet will help you work out a management plan. This plan should include a kidney-friendly diet, plenty of water, and corrections for anything that might be stressing your dog’s kidneys. Once diagnosed, the goal is to preserve, and attempt to restore your dog’s kidney function as much as possible.
As in humans, Addison’s is incredibly hard to diagnose in dogs. If your dog has Addison’s disease, his or her adrenal glands are not secreting the proper amounts of hormones. Typically, this is most noticeable in your dog’s steroid levels on a blood panel.
The AKC provides an extensive list of Addison’s symptoms, ranging from appetite loss to bloody stool to irregular heartbeat. Chances are if your vet is looking for Addison’s, your dog has already been through many diagnostic measures.
Unfortunately, diagnosing Addison’s often occurs through an acute crisis, during which the symptoms are so severe your dog may die. If suspected, your vet may introduce a synthetic version of the adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) and observe for normal or abnormal adrenal response.
Dogs with Addison’s can live healthy lives. However, your dog will require exogenous hormones for the rest of his or her life. Your vet will likely need perform a series of blood tests to dial in dosage.
Cesar’s Way points out that old age may cause shaking, but there’s no reason for you to ignore it. As your dog ages, he or she becomes more susceptible to many of the other shaking causes listed. Even expected arthritis warrants a conversation.
In old age-related shaking, it’s critical to eliminate anything that lowers your dog’s quality of life. Then, you can work with your vet to ensure your dog spends his time as comfortably as possible.
While among the less common causes of back leg shakes in dogs, electrolyte and mineral imbalances can cause the symptom. Unfortunately, these can be caused by a variety of underlying conditions.
According to Brook-Falls Veterinary Hospital, the best confirmation method is lab testing. From there, you and your vet can work out a plan that ensures your dog gets the nutrition and or treatment his or her condition requires.
General Tremor Syndrome
General Tremor Syndrome (GTS) is also called white shaker dog syndrome. GTS has no known cause but was initially observed in small, white dogs like terriers. However, GTS knows no breed limit, according to WebMD.
The symptom list for GTS mainly occurs during movement. Tremors increase with excited movement and then subside with rest. Some dogs with GTS may also experience abnormal gait and eye movements. These symptoms typically appear between 9 and 12 months of age.
GTS is steroid-responsive, so your vet will likely prescribe corticosteroids. Steroids will help with inflammation, which in turn should lessen the number of tremors and severity. Your dog should experience improvement within one week of beginning treatment.
Seizures are a terrifying to experience for most owners. During a seizure, the only thing you can do is move potential hazards away from your dog. Afterward, you can offer comfort in the form of water, petting, and a trip outside.
There are two types of seizures common in dogs. Focal seizures only affect one part of your dog’s body, which is where the tremors come in. Generalized seizures, meanwhile, overwhelm your dog’s whole body and include a state of general unawareness for your dog. Both should be reported to your vet.
Unfortunately, there may be a variety of symptoms that occur before or after a seizure alongside the back leg tremors. PetMD helpfully points out that dog seizures can result from injuries , genetics, or certain triggers, such as exposure to particular foods or materials. If possible, record your observations before your vet appointment.
It may take a bit of time for you and your vet to find the best treatment plan for your dog. If a trigger is suspected, the idea is to identify it, and then eliminate it from your dog’s environment, or prevent the condition (as applicable). It’s very important to document lifestyle interventions you try so you and your vet can use the data to effectively identify and eliminate triggers.
Your dog has probably eaten many things he or she was not supposed to before, according to us humans. Typically, they might vomit or simply pass the item. But if your dog has ready access to something unhealthy and remains compelled to continue eating, it can become a problem.
If your dog appears to be in immediate danger, call poison control and your local veterinarian. If not, work with your vet to isolate what your dog may have been poisoned by and remove the problem. This plan may require that you crate train your furry friend for when you are not home.
Canine distemper is a very contagious disease that attacks multiple systems. Since the nervous system is affected, this can cause shaking. Fortunately, there is a vaccine, which is preventative only. Puppies and the unvaccinated are still at risk.
Canine distemper can be passed from wild animals to dogs and vice versa. Additionally, female dogs can give it to their puppies in-utero. The most common means of infection, though, is a dog to dog, either through shared water or airborne contamination.
Canine distemper symptoms start with eye discharge. Then one may observe vomiting, lethargy, fever, and nasal discharge. Once the virus attacks the nervous system, circling, twitches, head tilts, and jaw convulsions start. The final stage is paralysis.
There is no cure for canine distemper, and unfortunately, there are deaths every year. Your veterinarian can provide supporting treatments such as fluids to help your dog combat this disease. The sooner you treat canine distemper, the less permanent nerve damage results.
Inflammatory Brain Disease
There are a variety of inflammatory brain disorders that occur in dogs, and the resulting pressure can damage the delicate tissue. Inflammatory brain disease is a form of meningitis, which may be one of three types. The types are granulomatous meningoencephalomyelitis (GME), necrotizing meningoencephalitis (NME), and necrotizing encephalitis (NE). Each results in a slightly different type of permanent damage, according to Veterinary Surgical Centers. All of them come with behavior and balance changes.
Steroids and immunosuppressants will be part of the initial treatment plan, and will be required to reduce the inflammation in your dog’s brain. Your vet will probably next work on moving your dog to exclusively immunosuppressants. There is no cure, but early treatment can help limit damage.
Like humans, a dog can have adverse reactions to medications. Since not all dogs will have these reactions, the drugs are widely used in veterinary medicine. Your dog may react to specific drugs by experiencing shaking.
Your dog may be reacting to anything from ibuprofen, given for pain, to risperidone, for aggression. The ASPCA has an ongoing list of substances to watch your dog for reactions when administering.
Depending on the intensity of your dog’s reaction, you may need emergency veterinary assistance. If not, request help from your usual veterinarian. Assuming you caught the reactions early, there may not be any lasting harm.
Over the ordinary course of the day, your dog probably empties his or her anal sacs a few times, just using the doggy restroom. However, this normal function can become interrupted and lead to more significant issues.
There are three common types of problems with anal sacs. The first is an infection. The second is impaction, where the fluid no longer has any movement and may solidify. The third is an abscess. In the case of impaction and abscesses, surrounding nerves may be affected and cause tremors.
Treatment for your dog typically includes your vet manually expressing his or her anal sacs if possible. If the sacs are impacted, there may be minor surgery and antibiotics involved, along with a change to a high fiber diet. If this problem persists, your vet can remove the anal sacs, but your dog may lose some bowel control, according to Wag Walking.
Nervous System Disorders
Whether it’s your dog’s brain, nerves, or spinal cord, nervous system disorders are scary. These disorders usually result in interruption of the signals sent between your dog’s brain and organs, and or misinterpretation of those signaks.
Tremors can occur when the disorder is affecting the brain. However, unsteadiness, apparent loss of sensation, facial paralysis, head tilt, and more can signal much larger problems, according to Care.com. These all warrant immediate veterinary attention.
Treatment options will vary depending on how the nervous system is affected. Your vet may prescribe physical therapy, medications, or ongoing monitoring. Many dogs with nervous system problems go on to lead healthy lives.
Dogs can sustain spinal injury in a number of ways. Just like humans, how badly they’re affected depends on the damage and how or whether it was effectively repaired.
The best indication of a spinal cord injury in your dog is the pain. This symptom is followed by less than average coordination and possible weakness in the afflicted area. More definitive signs typically require advanced imaging. Your vet will be instrumental in identifying an injury and treatment plan.
Diagnostic Options for Back Leg Shaking on Dogs
Your vet may use any or all of the tools described here to make the appropriate diagnosis. If possible, keep a log of your dog’s symptoms to help your vet in the process.
Your vet will likely conduct this exam at the start of your appointment. It helps your vet establish baselines for your dog before any additional stress or manipulation happens. This exam may tell your vet if there are any breaks or considerable tumors in your dog.
During a neurological exam, your vet will examine your dog’s head, cranial nerves, gait, neck, front legs, torso, rear legs, anus, and tail, according to the Merck Veterinary Manual. These tests will take longer than a physical exam, but help your vet determine the location of potential nervous system injuries.
Drawing bloodwork on your dog allows your vet to test for a variety of hormone, mineral, and electrolyte levels. These panels can help your veterinarian determine if there is organ failure, undue stress on a body system, and any number of other vital information.
Urinalysis involves various tests on your furry friend’s urine. Generally, your vet will simply collect your dog’s urine in a vessel, though many vets also ultrasound retrieval if your dog refuses. The urine is then used to check kidney function and output, which can show a variety of organ related conditions.
Imaging allows your vet to examine the physical structures of your dog. Generally, a vet may start with an x-ray and work up to advanced imaging like CAT scans or MRIs. This imaging lets your vet examine for injuries and other abnormalities, which could be causing your dog to shake.
Spinal Fluid Check
In rare cases, your vet may take a sample of your pet’s spinal fluid. Your pet will likely be completely sedated for this procedure. The spinal fluid helps your vet determine specific types of infections that are otherwise hard to pinpoint.
There is no definitive prevention measure you can take to protect your dog.
It is always advisable to obtain pure bread animals from a responsible breeder, as inbreeding could result in genetic abnormalities that severely reduce the animal’s quality of life. Generally, mutts do not share the same risks.
There are many potential causes of back leg shaking in dogs, and, in many cases, there are treatement options available. A licensed veterinary practitioner can help you sort out what’s causing your dog’s shaking. Then you can treat accordingly and help your furry best friend live his or her best life.
This article is not meant as a substitute for licensed veterinary assistance. Please seek veterinary aid for ongoing symptoms.
- Banfield Pet Hospital: Canine Distemper: A very serious and potentially fatal disease in dogs
- Cesarsway.com: Shake, shiver, and tremble: Why dogs do it
- NorthJersey.com: Many Causes For Dog’s Shaky Legs
- Petcarerx.com: My Dog Is Shaking: 8 Possible Reasons
- PetEducation.com: Garbage Intoxication/Food Poisoning in Dogs and Cats
- Pet Health Network: Tremors in Dogs: Could My Dog Be Poisoned?
- PetMD: Involuntary Muscle Trembling in Dogs
- Pet Poison Helpline: Summer Pet Poisons
- VetStreet.com: Why Does My Dog… Shake and Tremble?