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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?

dog wheelchair for paralyzed dog

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 dog’s 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

Paralyzed French Bulldog uses small Walkin' Wheels dog wheelchair

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. 

Walkin’ Wheels Dog Wheelchair
Walkin’ Wheels Wheelchair
drag bag for paralyzed dog
Walkin’ Drag Bag


  1. My rottweiler 5 year’s. Now she is back leck shivering what is the best medicine for back to normal pls advice. Thanks

    • Muru, many different conditions can a dog’s back legs to shake. Causes can range from a neurological condition to weakening hind legs or even a sign that your dog is in pain. I would highly recommend making an appointment to see your veterinarian. During your dog’s exam, explain the symptoms your Rottweiler is exhibiting and any changes in behavior or routine – this type of information can be helpful in diagnosing the underlying cause.

  2. My wonderful 9 year old Australian Shepard suffered Hansen’s Type 2 disk disease while playing frisbee back in April. He has been walking well (and on his own) for about 4 months. I used to practice running with him in the backyard (soft grass) and he would run for short distances, usually using both back feet at the same time – like a rabbit. In the last two weeks, when he tries to run, his legs start spasming which causes him to collapse. They will spasm for a few minutes, and then he’ll be able to steady himself and walk again. I take him on multiple walks a day, and does great (wonderful foot placement and no dragging at all) even on longer walks. It’s just when he starts running, or if we are really stimulating his lower back when the spasming starts. I am waiting for a call back from our neurologist to make an appointment of course, but wanted to know if this is his nerves trying to do something new? I heard about the magic 4-6 month “nerve regeneration” phase so wondering if that’s what’s going on? Thank you!

    • It certainly could be nerve regeneration. Another option could be that your Australian Shepherd is “spinal walking” which is when the dog learns how walk even though their nerves are irreparably damaged. Seeing your neurologist is the best thing you can do, they can help you determine exactly what’s happening and if your dog is regaining leg function and sensation.

  3. My 3-month old German Shepherd starting shaking in her front right leg a few days ago. Yesterday, I noticed that the shaking had increased and she was struggling to get and stay on her feet…. looked like her whole right side was weak and she was reluctant to walk anymore and preferred to crawl on her tummy and roll around.

    The Vet came and diagnosed her problem as a neurological condition and started her on a 20-day treatment. How soon will she be up and about again? She’s eating just fine. Should I expect a full recovery?

    • Hi Carol,

      I’m so sorry to hear about your German Shepherd. Every neurological condition is different in terms of recovery, I would speak with your veterinarian to see if rehab therapy would help your dog improve its mobility throughout the recovery process. Even if you expect a speedy recovery, I would consider using a rear lifting harness to help support your pup’s back legs – this can make it a lot easier for you both when your dog needs to go outside for the bathroom or needs a little extra help standing up. There are a lot of different style of rear support harness, but if you’re looking for something simple, I would recommend the Up-n-Go Leash. Please give us a call at 888-253-0777 if you have any questions!

  4. Hi, our 12 yr old dogs back left leg would quiver for no reason.
    She would also be standing on tiles and her leg would start to slide out sideways.
    Now she a bit of a jigsaw. She’s lahasa app so, Maltese, poodle & King Charles cav.
    She has had lumps on her removed before so when a few new ones came up we did the same.
    The one on her back leg was about the size of a grape. Very soft and Yiu could play with it a little until she had enough.
    Turns out it’s lymphoma and it’s everywhere. Nothing they can do. So we are trying natural remedies. Thank you for the information.

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