Old Dog Shaking – Behavior Problems in Older Dogs

Old Dog Shaking

While it may be alarming, the truth is that many older dogs begin to shake and tremble as they enter their senior years. Although the causes of these behavioral changes can be natural, there are ways you can help your dog navigate their natural life stage.

To help you be the best dog owner possible, we have compiled this guide to behavioral issues in older dogs. Not only do we explain some of the underlying issues that can lead to behavioral changes in old dogs, but we will also help you determine why your old dog is shaking.

If your old dog shakes or is displaying other changes in its behavior, we can help!

Table of Contents

dog shaking and trembling

Why Is My Old Dog Shaking?

As mentioned above, shaking and trembling are relatively common in elderly dogs. While the behavior may seem similar in one senior dog to the next, there are a wide variety of potential causes for this behavior.

The following are some of the most common reasons why dogs begin to shake as they enter their senior years:

The Dog Is Feeling Cold More Frequently

Dog Is Feeling Cold

As dogs age, they have a more difficult time regulating their body temperature. Colder temperatures that would not have bothered your pooch during their younger years could be chilling them now that they are in their senior life stage.

Just like humans, dogs tend to shiver when they are really cold as their body’s natural response to cold temperatures. Shivering is a way the body attempts to raise its core temperature, as shivering forces the muscles to relax and contract in rapid succession, which can generate heat. Just like in humans, it is an involuntary reaction to cold.

If you suspect it might be the cold that is causing your older dog to shiver, consider raising the temperature in your home. If it is the summer, go easy on the air conditioning, or, if it is the winter, consider turning up the heat. You can also find doggy sweaters and coats to help your older dog feel less cold on early morning and winter walks.

The Dog Could Be Suffering from a Degenerative Neurological Disorder

dogs neurological diseases

Unfortunately, many senior dogs can begin to suffer from neurological diseases as they age. Just like it can in humans, these age-related neurological disorders can lead to tremors, chronic shaking, and trembling.

Take your elderly dog to a veterinarian if you notice that they have begun to shake without an obvious cause. The veterinarian will be able to perform a neurological evaluation. From there, they can recommend potential treatment plans to help your senior dog navigate a particular neurological issue.

While many of these issues have no cure, there are plenty of things you can do to help your dog live a higher quality of life. Some specialized diets and supplement plans can also help slow the progression of neurological degeneration, which can mean your dog can live a higher standard of life for longer.

The Dog Could Be Suffering from Addison’s Disease or Generalized Tremor Syndrome (GTS)

Addison’s Disease in Dogs

Several diseases tend to impact elderly dogs at a higher rate than younger dogs. 

For example, Addison’s disease can lead to a variety of symptoms that can make it seem like your dog is behaving strangely. In addition to causing lethargy, vomiting, loss of weight and appetite, hair loss, and diarrhea, Addison’s disease often causes dogs to shake. Dogs diagnosed with Addison’s disease do not produce enough cortisol to regulate blood sugar levels properly. 

It tends to impact certain breeds at a much higher rate than others. Unfortunately, the following breeds have a heightened risk of developing the disease when they reach their middle to senior years: Nova Scotia duck tolling retrievers, Leonbergers, Labrador retrievers, bearded collies, standard poodles, and more.

For more information, we recommend reading through PetMD’s guide to symptoms and causes of Addison’s disease, titled Addison’s Disease in Dogs.

Generalized tremor syndrome, or GTS, is another condition that can impact dogs as they enter their senior years. This condition tends to impact smaller breeds more frequently than larger breeds, so it can be a concern for a West Highland white terrier, Shih Tzu, bichon frise, and other types of lap dogs.

The disease can lead to localized tremors or just general shaking. While it can be a troubling disease, prescription medications can help manage the symptoms, which is why it is so important to take your dog in to see a veterinarian if you notice that they have begun to shake without explanation.

Environmental Triggers Can Be Causing the Shaking

Triggers Can Be Causing the Shaking

It is also possible that your older dog is shaking as a simple reaction to environmental triggers. While young dogs are more in control of their bodies, senior dogs can shake as a response to fear, excitement, anxiety, nausea, and much more.

Try to take note of the exact circumstances of when your older dog usually begins to shake. Are they shaking as you are filling their food bowl or handing them their favorite treat? In these situations, the shaking could simply be a reaction to excitement and hunger.

Is your elderly dog shaking when they go to the veterinarian’s office or a dog groomer? In this case, their shaking could simply be a manifestation of their fear or irritation.

Just like humans, a dog’s body can react differently to certain emotions. As the dogs age, they become less capable of controlling their bodies, which explains why many will begin shaking, drooling, and dribbling in response to certain environmental and emotional triggers.

What Are Some Other Behavior Problems that Can Appear in Older Dogs?

While shaking is a common physical issue that can appear in elderly dogs, many other behavioral issues can present themselves as your dog enters its senior life stage.

The following are just some of the most common behavior problems we tend to see in older dogs:

  • Insomnia Throughout the Night and Disturbed Sleep Cycles – Many older dogs struggle to sleep. They can be restless throughout the night and sleep more frequently during the day, an unfortunate side effect of age-related cognitive dysfunction.
  • Excessive Vocalizations – You may notice that your older dog barks, growls, howls, and whines more than they did during their younger years. While this can be linked to cognitive disorders, it can also be linked to age-related hearing loss, which is very common in certain breeds.
  • Inability to Navigate Around the House Without Bumping into Things – Many elderly dogs suffer from full or partial eyesight loss. While this can occur gradually over many years, it can also happen quite suddenly. When this occurs, the dog may start bumping into walls, furniture, and other objects simply because they cannot see. If you believe that your dog is losing its ability to see, you should take them to see a veterinarian right away.
  • Increased Aggression – Another unfortunate side effect of aging in many dogs is increased aggressive behavior, which could be linked to many medical conditions or due to age-related confusion and brain fog. While you may think your dog is getting grumpy in their old age, it could be linked to a serious issue that the dog cannot control. Again, this is why a trip to the veterinarian can be useful as they can help you develop a treatment plan for your specific pooch.
  • House Soiling – Many age-related medical problems can impact a dog’s ability to hold onto its bladder and bowels. Unfortunately, this can cause a spike in house soiling incidents. Neuromuscular disorders, cognitive dysfunction, and many other serious issues can decrease your dog’s bladder and bowel control. This is why it is important not to get angry with your dog when they have an accident, as it could be outside of their control.
  • Decreased Energy Levels and Apathy – Another behavioral change that is extremely common in older dogs is lethargy and apathetic behavior. This is a natural symptom of getting older, but it can also be linked to a specific age-related issue. If your dog is less mobile than they once were, they may be suffering from a health issue that could be making it painful for them to move. Hip dysplasia and other joint issues are extremely common in elderly dogs, especially in larger breeds. These painful conditions can be extremely debilitating, as they can cause your dog to experience sharp pain every single time they try to stand up or walk. 

For more information about behavior problem issues in older dogs, we encourage you to read through the ASPCA’s complete guide to Behavior Problems in Older Dogs.

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