Why Dogs Tremble - It May Not Just Be the Earth That’s Moving

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My wife, Susan, and I live in earthquake country where the Pacific and North American Plates meet. Though Susan and I hadn’t met at the time, we both experienced the Northridge quake of 1994. The 6.4 tumbler that killed dozens and left hundreds homeless threw Susan out of bed and almost skewered me with a flying t-square.

Today, I was roused by a different kind of shaking. The bed rumbled like the hood of a 1968 Dodge Challenger poised for a drag race along the strait-aways of Van Nuys Boulevard.

This time it wasn’t the earth that shook, it was our Lilly, the Boston terrier.

Usually, Lilly trips the morning “potty alarm” by sighing, sprinting up to my pillow and licking my face, though she sometimes signals by trembling. No worries. I just rolled out of bed, clipped on her leash and took her for a walk.

Lilly peed on the curbside grass. However, she did not drop her usual poop bombs despite ample opportunity to do so. Bleary eyed I led her back upstairs, filled her water and breakfast bowls and flopped down on the couch with my oatmeal and an episode of Lucky Dog.

Seconds later Lilly bounded up on the couch, pressed her butt into my thigh and trembled again. Only this time, she begun smacking her lips and yawning. Meanwhile, she stared out into the hallway as if she’s seen a ghost.

By now, Susan had woken up and we were both concerned. Lilly hadn’t touched her food or water. Her lip-licking, yawning and butt-pressing intensified. The only other times she showed these behaviors was when our smoke detectors chirped and she had an “accident” inside the house - but we heard no chirping and found no indoor droppings.

A quick sweep of the internet revealed that shaking/trembling in dogs can be caused by:

  • Distemper. Results from a virus in puppies or adolescent dogs that haven’t been vaccinated. Additional symptoms include eye and nose discharge, coughing and fever. Usually treated with antibiotics, IV fluids and/or physical therapy.
  • Generalized Tremor Syndrome (GTS). Originally thought exclusive to small, white dogs, now noted in any size, breed or color of dog between the ages of nine  months and two years. Source is unknown. Corticosteroids such as Prednisone have brought remission of symptoms.
  • Neurological disorders. Seizures, inflammatory brain diseases and demyeliniating processes (causing erosion of the sheath that protects neural pathways).
  • Under-active adrenal glands (Addisonian Crisis) and full anal sacks.
  • Old age and Pain. May start as shaking in the hind, then front legs.
  • Excitement. Plain ‘ol good-to-see-ya!
  • Nausea. Medication, motion sickness, over-eating or eating the wrong things, kidney or liver disease. Fatigue, excessive salivation, vomiting, hiding, lip-smacking and yawning (hmm) may accompany nausea. Treatment depends on the source.

Nausea was possible given some of her symptoms and that fact that she loves to vacuum unidentified objects from various surfaces, so we called our vet and made an urgent appointment.

We were dashing about to get ready when we found one of Lilly’s poops hidden beside the toilet. After turning on the fan and opening the window to air-out the bathroom, we heard the faint chirping of a neighbor’s dying smoke detector.

Anxiety and PTSD should be added to the above list! One of the reasons Lilly was surrendered was for “pooping too much in the house.” Who knows what kind of shaming she endured because the family never trained her to “go” outside. And ever since our smoke-detector incident, Lilly has been hypersensitive to high-pitched sounds like my work pager going off.

Now when the earth moves - and there’s no seismic activity - we’ll have a good idea why.


Please note: vomiting in conjunction with trembling may be a sign of poisoning. Call your vet or the Animal Poison Control Center immediately at 888-426-4435. Click here for a list of substances that are poisonous to your pet.