If you see your dog’s leg shaking it can certainly be concerning. Is this behavior something to be worried about? What’s causing it? Everything will be covered below.
In general, involuntary shaking of your dog’s front leg does warrant further investigation and a possible vet visit. Let’s cover the main reasons below.
What Kind of Shake Is It?
One thing to clarify first is what kind of shake is happening. Is your dog twitching, shivering, or having something more like muscle tremors?
Twitching is very common when dogs sleep. Twitching can happen while your dog is dreaming or even just napping. But usually, this signifies a deep sleep.
Twitching may also happen if your dog is resting in an uncomfortable position. This can trigger a twitching-like response of the affected limb.
Shivering is when the muscle fibers relax and contract rapily to create kinetic heat. This heat is then transferred throughout the body.
Shivering is a natural reaction that happens when a dog feels too cold. While this mostly only affects puppies and small dogs, any dog can eventually feel the cold under extreme conditions.
Muscle tremors are typically repetitive and rhythmic and can last for quite some time. Real muscle tremors are involuntary and your dog will not have control over the trembling.
According to PetMD, various issues can cause muscle tremors including:
- Side effect to medication or drugs
- Nervous system disease
- Low glucose levels in the blood
- Severe weakness or pain
- Ingestion of toxins
Identifying the shake can be challenging. For situations like this, veterinarians recommend videoing the shake so they can take a look and assess it. You may even be able to forward the video straight to your vet for a faster response.
Other than this, the only true way to know what’s happening is to have consistent health checkups. This is why we always recommend TWO checkups per year.
12 Reasons Why a Dog’s Front Leg Shakes
The 12 common causes of a shaking front leg include:
- Pain or injury
- Cold weather
- Addison’s disease
- Low blood sugar
- White shaker syndrome
- Abnormal salt level
- Nervous system issues
- Ingesting poison or something toxic
- Kidney disease
- Cognitive dysfunction
1. Pain or injury
If your dog’s front leg is hurting from a new or old injury then it’s more than possible this is the cause of the shaking.
In addition to injury, it could be a more serious issue causing the pain in the front leg. Health issues like arthritis, bone fractures, tumors, or even a joint infection can all cause significant pain.
You may witness your dog licking, chewing, limping or protecting the affected front leg.
Canine anxiety is more common than we think, and it can affect our dog’s body’s in many ways.
Typical reactions in dogs dealing with anxiety include:
- Behavioral changes
- Following their owners around
- Hiding & avoiding
- Licking and chewing
- Erratic behavior
- And yes, front leg shaking!
If your dog is suffering from anxiety it can be challenging to find the cause.
Usually we have to first consider routine and overall lifestyle. Is your dog’s daily routine sufficient? Are they receiving enough exercise, stimulation, attention and training?
If anything is lacking in a dog’s routine then anxiety can be triggered easily.
Another very common cause of anxiety in dogs is being left alone every day for too long. Busy work schedules may result in our dog’s being left home alone for several hours at a time… If this is the case for your dog then it’s important to consider how it’s affecting them.
3. Cold weather (Hypothermia)
As the cold winter months set in, puppies and many small dog breeds become suspecitble to hypothermia.
If your dog’s body temperature drops, shivering will be one of the first reactions in order to generate internal heat.
Of course, not all instances of “feeling cold” means a dog is suffering from hypothermia. But if you witness addition symptoms like weakness, an inability to move or very slow breathing then call you veterinarian asap.
If you think your dog is cold then try raising the room temperature, turn the heating on, or provide a warm blanket to lay on.
4. Addison’s Disease
Addison’s Disease typically affects young and middle-ages female dogs, but can affect all regardless of age and gender.
Addison’s Disease happens when the adrenial glands fail to produce the hormones (aldosterone and cortisol)b that they’re responsible for creating. While the glands produce more hormones than this, these two are the most important.
While this disease can have serious consequences (even fatal) it is usually well-managed so long as it’s diagnosed early on.
Typical symptoms of this disease other than front-leg shaking include:
- Bloody stools
- Weight loss
- Increased urination
- Increased thirst
- Irregular heart rate
- Weak pulse
- Low body temperature
If you notice any of these symptoms then it’s advised to schedule an appointment with your veterinarian. These symptoms are fairly broad and could indicate other health issues too.
5. Low blood sugar
Front leg shaking can also be caused when a dog has hypoglycemia (low blood sugar levels). In addition to muscle tremors and twitching, dogs typically act very tired, lethargic, weak and not themselves.
Diabetic dogs are most vulnerable to this issue. We often see insulin overdoses which will cause the blood sugar to drop dramatically. This can also happen with dogs that have insulin-secreting tumors.
6. White shaker syndrome
White shaker syndrome is an inherited nervous system disorder that typically affects small white dogs including Shih tzus, Westies, Poodles, and Malteses (although it’s not strictly limited to these breeds).
This disorder typically develops between the age of six months and three years, and the symptoms are “generalized tremors” that worsen with activity or or stress.
The cause of this disease is still completely unknown by experts. However, it’s now been found that steriods can help manage this problem until dogs make a complete recovery.
7. Abnormal salt levels (Hypernatremia)
Salt is extremely important in your dog’s body, and it needs to be at the right level! While this usually isn’t an issue, it can be brought on by excessive vomiting, dehydration, or general salt toxicity.
In addition to shaking/tremors all over the body, it can lead to an upset stomach, dizziness, uncordination, comas, seizures and more.
If you notice any serious symptoms like these, it’s important to call your veterinarian right away.
8. Nervous system issues
Muscle tremors can sometimes be caused by central nervous system issues. Bleeding on the brain, infections, seizures, and even brain tumors can all play a part in this.
Of course it’s not easy to know if your dog has a serious issue like this, which is why once again we must always schedule a vet appointment if something doesn’t seem right with your dog.
Any symptoms including:
- Unusual behavior
- Head shaking
- Appetite changes
9. Ingesting poison or something toxic
It’s surprisingly common for dogs to consume something foul, rotten, poisionous or toxic while outside.
Whether it’s rummaging through the trash, soil, or while out on their daily walk, it can all lead to a very sick dog.
Ingestion of something poisionous can cause shaking, tremors, vomiting, diarrhea, and unusual behavior.
If you suspect your dog has consumed something toxic then it’s advised to seek veterinary help as soon as possible.
As well as inducing vomiting, your vet may start feeding activated charcoal meals to help clear out some of the toxins.
10. Kidney disease
Dogs suffering from kidney disease will usually suffer from toxicity build up, and as explained before, increased toxins in the body can cause shaking.
High toxin levels can cause vomiting, nausea, weight loss, weakness, lethargy as well as uncontrollable shaking.
11. Cognitive dysfunction
As our beloved doggos age, their cognitive health can suffer. “Doggy dementia” can cause various symptoms such as restlessness, confusiong, barking, excessive stress, anxiety and shaking.
Many vets believe that the shaking primarily comes from the anxiety caused by the dementia.
Although this condition is not completely curable, it is well-studied and there are many options available to help senior dogs live with this condition.
In the most frustrating situations, front leg shaking may be completely unexplainable.
Assuming your dog is in otherwise full health, it may be hard to diagnose the true cause of front leg shaking.
In some situations it could just be habitual behavior or OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder).
If this is the case, many veterinarians will advise you to keep an eye on the behavior, ensuring no other symptoms are present.
When to Speak To Your Veterinarian
If your dog is shaking anywhere it’s always important to keep an eye on it, and in many cases the right thing to do is inform your veterinarian.
Beyond a basic inspection of the front leg itself, your veterinarian should analyze your dog’s entire medical history and perform further tests including a neurological and orthopedic exam.
It’s also important to observe any other behavior or symptoms and inform your vet of these too. Additional symptoms regardless of how small or insignificant you may think they are, could help with the diagnosis.
Videoing the leg shaking can also help your veterinarian diagnose, so this is also a good idea.
Is your dog suffering from shaking, twitching or muscle tremors? If so, it’s best to seek professional help from your local veterinarian.
If you’ve experienced this in the past with your dog, please message in and let us know what the cause was! This can help us refine our content and help future dog owners. 🙂
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