Help! My Dog Yelps & Shakes For No Reason

‘At a glance’ (details below)

Why Dogs Yelp, Cry or Shake Suddenly

  • Acute pain is the cause of most yelping ‘for no reason’
  • The majority of unexplained cases have neck or back pain
  • It can happen when moving, when touched or even while sleeping
  • Some of these dogs are at risk of IVDD

Now dive deeper…

I’m sorry about the comic picture above. Yelping is no laughing matter. Dogs can go on for years before their suffering is recognised.

dog neck painThis is Chi Chi. I don’t expect you to see it yet, but this dog is clearly in terrible pain. At home he would suddenly yelp without obvious reason, and shake all over. An internet search didn’t give the right answer, so let’s set the record straight…

Why Dogs Yelp When Touched Or Moved

A dog that yelps without an obvious reason usually has neck or back pain. Almost all other causes of yelping show other symptoms such as limping or a poor appetite. Yes, dogs with spinal pain usually eat normally, as miserable and lethargic as they are.

That’s the big clue. Back pain often causes spectacular referred pain to the abdomen without any other abdominal symptoms. It’s the same phenomenon that causes left arm pain in heart attacks when the arm is fine. Although these dogs usually appear to have a painful abdomen and often look frankly terrible, they keep eating.

Two other conditions that cause yelping might be sometimes also occur. The first is a severe ear infection. These dogs have ‘got used’ to the pain but if you brush the side of the head they yelp.

The second is anxiety.

Signs Of Neck or Back Pain

Have a look at Chi Chi again. The first thing to see is that unusual head posture. No matter what, he keeps his head bent down and tries to only move his eyes to look around. This is a classic sign of neck pain.

Back pain is harder to see, but there is usually some degree of back arching. together with a rock-hard abdomen. For both necks and backs, dogs will be reluctant to move and probably not be jumping up at all. Remember, they should be otherwise fine.

Warning: dogs don’t usually yelp while you examine them, so you can easily do a lot of harm without realising. All a vet looks for is the subtle difference in muscle tension between these dogs and normal patients. Here’s why it matters…

The Dangers

Visit our page on back problems and IVDD to see a dog who could easily have died if his owners didn’t react properly. Many cases of spinal pain have unstable intervertebral discs that can rupture into the spinal cord. You need a vet to recognise which ones these are and take immediate action.

Treatment of Neck & Back Pain

Vet care usually starts with x-rays. Just like spinal pain in people, not all cases are serious. Treatment will always involve good pain control, but some dogs also need either immediate specialist referral or cage rest.

But not Chi Chi. His case, despite the severe pain, was suitable for home care and he made a full recovery. Only time will tell if his problem will come back, and we’ll be there if it does.

The Elephant In The Room

One last thing needs saying: most dogs with unexplained yelping are overweight. Regardless of the cause, quality of life almost always improves if owners can just be strong. Follow this link for positive, non-judgmental advice on weight loss in dogs. You won’t regret it!

Have something to add? Comments are welcome below and will appear within 24 hours of lodging.

By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. These help topics are from a series regularly posted on Facebook and Twitter. The information provided here is not intended to be used as a substitute for going to the vet. If your pet is unwell, please seek veterinary attention.


8 Replies to “Help! My Dog Yelps & Shakes For No Reason”

  1. My dog yelps when strokes and examined, he is quite nervous in nature as it is. Recently he has started digging holes in the garden which he NEVER used to do but after digging the hole he will then lay in it. What does that mean?

    1. Hi Kirsty. It’s actually quite normal behaviour for a dog to dig a hole and then lie in it. This is especially common in hot weather when it does seem to help them cool down a bit. However, it’s the change in behaviour that concerns me. I would get a check up as it’s also possible he’s in pain and it’s his way of trying to get away from it. The yelping could just be a dog that’s nervous, but it’s quite rare for a dog to do this with their own owner.

  2. Hi Andre, so about a week and a half ago I sat on my 12 pound poodle and I weight a reasonable 200lbs and now she yells when barely touched, she doesn’t jump on beds or the sofa anymore(she used to jump on them a lot) and she shivers all the time. When taken outside she feels fine but while inside the house she’s miserable. She doesn’t eat but drinks water. She used the restroom fine but this morning right now she went to the bathroom in one room and in another and just threw up like 4 time. She threw up some huge weird objects that looked like a jalapeño with strings. Please help!.

    1. Hi Isabel. I’m sorry to say but it sounds like your poodle is in serious trouble. You certainly have described all of the symptoms of severe pain but it is hard to say why. I suspect the vomiting is related to the injury and that the object that was brought up was just something sitting in the stomach at the time but again it’s hard to say. All I can suggest is that you find a vet to see her as soon as possible. I suspect she has some internal injuries. All the best – Andrew

  3. Our dog yelps when gently stroked on head, why? She is a skidish dog overall. Will flinch if you step over her. Cannot handle a walking stick will freak out into a panic attack if my husband uses it normally to walk. I think she was abused by previous owner. Do you have an opinion? I would like a reply

  4. Hi Andrew, thanks for this post. I’ve suspected the foster dog I’m looking after has some issues with one of his back legs but after reading your post I also realise that throughout the night he gets up a few times and has a good shake, so now I’m wondering if that’s another sign of things not being quite right. Another thing to discuss at our upcoming vet appointment!

  5. My dog’s back right leg shivers sometimes and occasionally she holds it up. She doesn’t yelp or cry. However, she does not jump on the bed as often as she has previously. She is about 8-9 years old. I suspect arthritis.

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