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

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.

I have yet to see an exception to this simple rule. When I see these dogs, what always surprises me is that no matter how terrible they look, the answer to my question about appetite is always, “he’s eating fine.”

Perhaps the only condition that might be sometimes confused with pain could be 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 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. It’s up to us vets 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.

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

andrew and pets
Dr Andrew

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.


One Reply to “Help! My Dog Yelps & Shakes For No Reason”

  1. 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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