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Answers from vets about your pet:

Is it an Emergency? Shivering, Lethargy, and More

Reviewed by Missy Beall DVM, PhD on Friday, February 7, 2014
Posted December 12, 2013 in Dog Diseases & Conditions A-Z

Up close of a scared dog

In part I of this article, we discussed the common complaints of vomiting, diarrhea and limping, and when you should panic—or, more often, not—when you note these signs in your pet.  In this, the second part, we will discuss the common complaints of shivering/shaking, and weakness/lethargy.

What if my dog or cat is shivering/shaking?
Often, we will receive calls of panic when a pet owner notes that his or her pet is shivering and/or shaking uncontrollably.  Pets may shiver or shake for many reasons—pain, fear, anxiety, nerves, or simply being too cold.  There is even an endocrine disorder called Addison’s disease which can cause excessive shivering as well.  We often see dogs shiver and shake during thunderstorms or July 4th fireworks.  Some will even respond this way if there’s a lot of unusual noise nearby because of construction or sirens.    

If the shivering is truly temperature related (which it usually isn’t), chances are you’ll be a little too cold as well, or you’ve just brought your furry canine in from the very cold outdoors.  If neither is the case, his or her shivering is most likely not from being too cold.

Finally, there’s pain as a cause of shivering or shaking, and this is a very common reason.  The difficulty here is trying to determine whether or not the degree of pain, or the source of pain, should be of concern enough to panic and take your pooch or kitty straight to your veterinarian or to an emergency facility.  Often this is a judgment call, but here are a few guidelines.  If the shivering and shaking is accompanied by excessive panting, this is usually a sign of stress, and more intense pain or discomfort.   If you see, or feel, an obvious problem—a grossly abnormal limb indicating a possible fracture, an extremely bloated or tense abdomen indicating a possible bloatpancreatitis, or other intestinal pain, or extreme stiffness (as if your pet doesn’t want to move) especially in the neck or back with or without gait abnormalities or ataxia (appearing as if your pet is drunk and wobbly), which may indicate a herniated disc or a muscle problem along the spine, you want to seek veterinary medical attention as soon as possible—the sooner the better.  

If you don’t note any of the above symptoms, you might try giving your pet a veterinary approved, species appropriate,

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Jeff has more than 30 years of experience in the veterinary industry and is a licensed veterinarian as well as a founding member of IDEXX’s Pet Health Network team.