Leg Tremors in Dogs: What Does it Mean if a Dog’s Back Legs Shake?

When pets experience involuntary muscle trembling, they are experiencing a repetitive muscle movement that they can not control. Trembling and shaking legs are unpredictable and may impact only one limb or several.  Shaking back legs, twitching, and leg tremors in dogs are likely caused by a medical condition. Although shaking can be a sign of pain, it’s possible that your dog may not even realize its leg is twitching. Intermittent leg tremors aren’t likely a cause for concern; however, frequent shaking legs could mean an underlying health condition. 

What Causes a Dog’s Legs to Shake?

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The following reasons for shaking are considered “benign” or normal in dogs, and shouldn’t be a cause for concern:

  • Whole body shaking – typically from fear or cold that stops when your dog warms up or is removed from a stressful situation. Although if your dog is shaking suddenly and for no apparent reason, they need to be seen by their veterinarian immediately. 
  • Age-related tremors – non-aggressive tremors that don’t harm your dog caused by old age. Only your veterinarian can determine these results through testing to rule out all other causes. 
  • Hind leg weakness – shaky legs and muscle spasms are common in dogs with weak back legs.

Intermittent leg tremors can be caused by weakened leg muscles or a chemical or neurological imbalance, which can be more serious. Not only can the movement scare your dog, it can interfere with their mobility, making it difficult for them to walk or stand. 

Pain Tremors

A dogs’ back legs may shake if they are experiencing pain, especially in the hip or knee, from a degenerative joint condition. A torn ligament in the knee, arthritis or hip dysplasia can all cause pain tremors in the back legs when the dog tries to walk. 

Neurological Disorders

A veterinary neurologist should check dogs whose shaking legs make it difficult to walk or stand. Various neurological conditions in both dogs and cats begin with shaking legs. Shaking legs can indicate weakness or disruption in communication from the spinal cord to the brain. Twitching can also stem from extreme discomfort caused by a slipped disc or nerve problem. 

Degenerative Myelopathy

DM is a progressive spinal disease that slowly weakens a dog’s limbs that is common in older German Shepherds. As a dog’s spine slowly degenerates, the lack of nerve signals to the muscles in the hind legs can cause muscle spasms, involuntary muscle contractions, as well as shaking in the back legs and feet. 

Shaker Syndrome

Shaker syndrome is a congenital nerve defect in the brain and spinal cord that causes tremors in the head and whole body. Sometimes referred to as little white shaker syndrome because the condition most commonly occurs in Maltese, Poodle, and West Highland Terriers. Tremors usually begin when a dog reaches adulthood, between one to two. The prognosis is excellent with treatment and prednisone, with all signs of shaking going away within a few weeks.  

Shaking Legs in Paralyzed Dogs

Involuntary shaking and leg tremors are typical in paralyzed dogs. Muscle weakness and shaky legs go hand in hand. As a dog’s back legs weaken, they will likely experience muscle atrophy, nerve damage, and pain, all of which can cause leg tremors. 

In some cases, a paralyzed dog’s legs may twitch as they heal or as their pain sensation starts to return to their limbs. You may see your dog’s legs shake or spasm periodically when their back legs are up in the wheelchair stirrups; this is normal. These tremors can mean that they are improving and possibly regaining their leg strength, but it does not necessarily mean your dog will walk again unassisted. Tell your veterinarian or rehab specialist if you see any unexpected movement in your dog’s legs. 

Next Steps:

1. Observe and take note:

  • How often is your dog shivering? 
  • Does your dog shake only in their sleep?
  • Are the tremors only in one part of the body? 

2. Check for symptoms:

  • Are you seeing any other unusual behavior or symptoms? Symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting, or lethargy 

3. Visit your veterinarian right away

Shaking limbs can signify neural distress, poisoning, kidney failure, distemper, pain, or weakness. You must speak with your veterinarian or neurologist right away. 

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Walkin’ Wheels Dog Wheelchair
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Walkin’ Lift Rear Harness
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Walkin’ Drag Bag

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