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. Subscribe via email here to never miss a story! 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.


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

  1. My toy poodle yelps and begins to shake a lot if you touch the left side of her body or even if you don’t touch her at all. She will jump up onto the lounge without any visible pain but if we were to pick her up, she yelps and starts shaking again. She is now sitting with her body slightly curled towards the right side and seems to be leaning forward a bit.

    1. Sometimes this behaviour can be anxiety if they feel threatened when you go to get them. However, you should always start by looking for pain. I’d certainly get a vet to take a look, but as she may not do it at the clinic, also take a video on your phone to show them.

  2. Hi, so what was chi chi’s problem as it sounds similar to my dog and what care did you provide at home. My dog has yelped in pain with no one near him and he holds his head like chi chi. We are currently on pain killers and antibiotics for a possible uti. Next step xrays if he doesn’t improve? He also had an episode where his back legs gave way so is this a sign of neck/back pain. Thanks

    1. Hi Lou – Chi Chi had neck pain. To be honest, once the painkillers started working we didn’t need to do anything else except keep him quiet and stop him jumping on and off furniture. In your case, I would wonder if there might be a better painkiller (is it an anti-inflammatory? I find meloxicam plus an opiate works best) It sounds like the x-rays are going to be necessary.

  3. Hi Andrew,
    Im facing with one issue with my puppy Shihi tzu 1/5 years old, everything was normal , I did brushing her, walking,playing,eating food, all ok until 2days back when I was playing with her sunddnly she screamed and she stoped playing after that I felt she is a bit nervous but we went out to walk normally, when we came back When I tried to touch her neck again she screamed and hide herself under the table, from that time I’m monitoring her every 10mins I felt she is crying and she is not moving her head just looking around with her eyes, she is not happy at all ignoring her foods and treats, she is doing urine with no problem, I really don’t know what should I do because the vets in my city they are not that pro, do you have any opinion to help me, I’m really looking for reply
    Thanks so much.

    1. Hi Amigo. I think you have read the right article based on what you have described. It certainly sounds like severe neck pain, but you really need a vet to have a look. I’m sure the vets in your area see these all the time and can help her. Shi Tzus in particular often have spinal disc problems so if I were them I would certainly be also recommending an x-ray to check. Good luck. Andrew

  4. 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.

  5. 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

  6. 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

  7. 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!

  8. 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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