There are many reasons why a dog’s back legs shake. In many scenarios it doesn’t mean anything ominous is happening. However, it is a symptom that can indicate a severe medical problem. Hence, if your dog’s back legs are shaking it’s important to identify other symptoms that present alongside it.
In this article I’m going to discuss some of the possible reasons a dog’s back legs might shake to give you some appreciation of the actions you might take as a result.
Important: If you discover your dog’s back legs are shaking and you cannot determine a valid and innocuous reason why, you should speak to a veterinarian as quickly as possible.
Table of Contents
- Introduction: Why Are My Dog’s Back Legs Shaking?
- Summary: Why Are My Dog’s Back Legs Shaking?
- Related Posts
Introduction: My Dog’s Back Legs Are Shaking… Why is This?
My Whippet Misty has injured her toes on several occasions. Usually it happens when she’s running after something. Whippets are lightning-fast and when they’re at full speed making sudden trunks they can easily hurt their paws.
Most recently Misty jumped off my bed and landed awkwardly on her rear left paw. As a result her back legs started shaking. Fortunately, she didn’t hurt herself badly and recovered within a day.
However, had I not been at home with her to understand what had happened, the first indication I would have had that something was amiss would have been seeing her back legs shaking.
This led me to imagine what I might have thought had this been the case. I wouldn’t have seen her jump off my bed so I wouldn’t have witnessed her awkward landing… I would have been left wondering if it was something serious
Having done some research subsequent to Misty hurting her toe though, it transpires there are many reasons why a dog’s back legs might shake.
If your dog’s had a particularly energetic workout with lots of zoomies, it’s possible that you’ll see its back legs shaking.
Just like us, canine muscles can shake when they’re tired and overexerted, especially if they belong to older dogs… and just as it is for us, most often rest and relaxation is the cure.
I see this with Misty very frequently: Whippets shake with excitement at the prospect of any type of excursion.
Usually though dogs will shake all over their body when they anticipate something fun happening and it’s perhaps less common to see shaking confined to just the back legs… but it’s possible.
Another stimulus that triggers the shakes is fear. In situations where dogs feel frightened, such as heavy storms or sudden loud noises like fireworks, adrenaline flows through their bodies preparing their muscles for action.
Adrenaline makes muscles twitch and shake and this can result in the back legs shaking.
As any Whippet owner knows, Whippets are not built for cold weather. Indeed most domesticated dogs don’t like colder temperatures.
Again, like us, dogs will shake and tremble when they get cold. This is an unconscious response to cold temperatures whereby muscles tighten and loosen rapidly, which generates heat in an effort to maintain core body temperature.
When a dog gets cold, it may result in its back legs shaking though it will likely affect the whole body.
Just as we 2-legged people feel a bit shaky when we’re feeling nauseous, dogs too can tremble if they’re feeling sick.
Your furry friend’s legs might shake if it’s feeling under the weather, suffering from motion sickness while travelling in a car or eating a houseplant it shouldn’t have.
Of course, unexplained nausea, drooling, excessive yawning and swallowing might indicate more than just feeling a little under the weather. As a result, it’s always good to try to understand why and you should speak to a veterinarian if you can’t determine the reason.
Like Misty and her toe, injury to a rear foot or leg might cause one or both back legs to shake. Post-traumatic tremors are not at all uncommon and they may be located just at the site of the injury but they can spread to other parts of the body too.
Of course if you’re aware your dog has somehow hurt itself and it’s in clear distress with its back legs shaking, you might determine that taking it to a veterinary professional is the best course of action.
In the case of Misty’s toe my sense was that she hadn’t injured herself excessively even though her back legs were shaking somewhat. The tremors didn’t last long though and after walking a little gingerly for the better part of a day, she recovered fully after a good night’s sleep.
Sadly, if your dog’s back legs are shaking it could be down to its age. Many older dogs tend to lose muscle strength and develop shakes and tremors as time passes.
Furthermore, pain associated with age related wear and tear might also cause shaking in a dog’s back legs specifically.
Hip dysplasia is a major cause of back leg shaking in dogs. It occurs due to malformation of the hip socket, resulting in lameness (an inability to stand or walk properly) and arthritis.
Since dysplasia affects the hind quarter, dogs suffering the condition rely on their front legs, which further results in a weakening of their back legs making shaking even more likely.
Symptoms of hip dysplasia in dogs are:
- Limping or stiffness of movement
- Back legs shaking
- Reluctance to run, jump, stand up or climb stairs
- Increased muscle mass at the shoulders from overcompensating for the back leg muscles
- Decreased muscle mass at the thighs
Treatment of canine hip displacement will vary depending upon severity and age and may be simply changes to your dog’s lifestyle to surgery. In either case your veterinarian will recommend the best way to proceed.
Arthritis & Leg Shaking
Like hip dysplasia (which can lead to arthritis of the hip joints) arthritis can affect any joints in a dog’s leg and paws.
Arthritis is a degenerative condition mostly affecting older dogs that causes pain and inflammation of the joints. Shaking in a dog’s back legs is a typical symptom if pain in the joints and associated muscle weakness is severe enough.
Treatment is largely related to lifestyle changes, exercise, steroid medication, pain relief and in some cases surgery.
Just like us, dogs can suffer from diabetes when their bodies become unable to make or manage insulin properly. Insulin is a hormone created by the pancreas that helps to regulate blood sugar levels and absorb glucose.
If insulin production is irregular or the body isn’t able to use it correctly it means that insulin can’t deliver glucose to cells, which require it for energy to fuel a dog’s body.
Ironically, if cells don’t receive the glucose they need through a lack of insulin to deliver it, the pancreas creates more glucose, which can overload the bloodstream and cause health problems. Equally, an oversupply of sugar (which the body converts to glucose) can result in the high levels of glucose in the blood and the same health issues.
Dog’s with diabetes need veterinary treatment quickly so it’s important to understand the symptoms:
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Lethargy or tiredness
- Increased need to drink water
- More frequent need to urinate
Conversely, a dog might have too little glucose in the body (hypoglycaemia) through overproduction of insulin. This can result in extremely serious symptoms such as:
- Heart irregularities
- Tremors and shaking
- Loss of consciousness
- Brain damage
If your dog displays any of the symptoms of diabetes it’s vitally important to seek veterinary treatment as quickly as possible.
Electrolytes are minerals either made by the body or obtained from foods that play an extremely important role in a number of bodily functions, such as regulating heart rhythm and protecting the nervous system.
Electrolyte imbalance occurs when the level of electrolyte minerals in your bloodstream are too high or too low. A number of conditions can lead to this imbalance and the symptoms can vary depending upon which particular mineral is affected.
A dog affected by an electrolyte imbalance may suffer irregular heart function, breathlessness, brittle bones and back leg shaking.
Addison’s disease is a condition that arises as a consequence of the adrenal gland dysfunction. The adrenal glands produce and regulate the hormones cortisol and aldosterone.
Cortisol helps dogs respond to stress and it also regulates blood sugar levels while aldosterone helps the body maintain sodium levels in the body.
If the adrenal glands stop producing cortisol and aldosterone, the effects can be life-threatening. Symptoms can be varied and may include:
- Electrolyte imbalance
- Abnormal heart rhythm
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Excessive peeing
- Tremors and back leg shaking.
Dogs can live a full life with Addison’s disease but it needs to be identified as quickly as possible and it requires lifelong medication.
A physical defect in the nervous system, shaker syndrome can affect any dog but most often affects small (under 30lbs) white-coated breeds like Maltese, Poodles and West Highland White Terriers.
The symptoms of shaker syndrome are tremors (shaking) either all over the body or localised (such as the back legs). The shaking can be mild or, in worst cases, severe as to prevent standing, walking and even eating.
Diagnosis tends to be through a process of elimination: other more likely reasons for shaking are ruled out first after which fluid may be taken from the spinal cord for analysis.
Treatment of shaker syndrome will vary depending upon the severity of the effects but it may involve steroids for a short or long term. Most dogs return to normal quickly after identification and treatment, but in very rare cases some dogs never fully recover.
An inherited condition, degenerative myelopathy affects the white matter of the spinal cord, whereby it deteriorates affecting communication between the brais and rear legs. This often results in progressive weakness and paralysis of a dog’s back legs.
Early symptoms of degenerative myelopathy include:
- Weakness in the hindquarters
- Tremors or shaking in the back legs
- Difficulty standing up
- Swaying rear when stood
- Rear paws scraping the ground when walking
In the later stages of the condition, symptoms include:
- Paralysis in the back legs
Treatment is usually lifestyle changes to diet and exercise as well as pain relief medication but sadly it is not curable.
If you notice the early symptoms of degenerative myelopathy in your dog, contact a veterinarian as quickly as possible.
Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD)
Another condition affecting the spinal column, intervertebral disc disease affects the discs in the spine causing them to rupture or split.
It can affect any dog breed at any age though it’s more likely to affect older dogs with longer backs like Basset Hounds, Dachshunds and Shih Tzus.
IVDD reduces the ability of the discs to absorb shock, can lead to the discs herniating and lead to compression of the spinal cord itself. Hence it can result in:
- Weakness in all four legs
- Back leg shaking
- Abnormal posture
- Reluctance to walk, stand up, jump and climb stairs
Treatment will vary depending upon the damage to the dog’s spinal cord caused by IVDD. In less severe cases treatment will mean management of pain and inflammation. More severe cases may require surgery.
Summary: My Dog’s Back Legs Are Shaking… Why is This?
If your dog’s back legs are shaking and you’ve read this post to try to find out why, the safest thing to do would be to speak to a veterinarian as soon as you can.
A dog’s back legs might shake for a variety of reasons, some of which are not at all serious. However, if the onset of shaking has been very quick and you can determine no obvious and innocuous reason as to why, you should always talk to a veterinary expert.
Sadly, a dog’s back legs shaking can be a symptom of something serious and should be explored if you’re not certain why it’s happening to your dog.
One final piece of advice is never to “just wait and see” if you’re unsure. The price of a call or visit to a veterinary centre is very small to ensure the wellbeing of your dog.
Do you have a question or have you had an experience of your dog’s back legs shaking? I’d love to hear about it in the comments section at the bottom of this page.
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