So, you’re relaxing at home one night when your dog starts twitching. Muscular spasms can be disturbing to see, whether they happen to a dog or a human. What can you do to help dog muscle spasms?
Here are some causes of dog muscle spasms and how they can signify something is wrong with your dog’s health.
Which Diseases Cause Seizures in Canines?
Tremors in dogs are repetitive, involuntary movements. They can involve one body part or several body parts. Muscle tremors can be slow or rapid. An injury can lead to muscular spasms, but a disease could also be the culprit.1
These are a few of the diseases that have often caused spasms in dogs, many of which can harm your pet’s health and well-being. If your dog is suffering from spasms, a veterinarian will likely use tests, such as magnetic resonance imaging, to confirm a diagnosis.
Canine epilepsy is a common neurological problem. It’s caused by a brain abnormality that leads to seizures, often preceded by muscle tremors. Genetics and structural problems are the main reasons this abnormality exists.
There are two main types of seizures associated with epilepsy. A generalized seizure often affects both sides of the body. It can lead to sudden muscle movements and a sudden change in muscle tone. Dogs experiencing this type of seizure may drool, or suddenly defecate or urinate.
A focal seizure affects one part of the body. Dogs may move their limbs in a paddling motion, have facial twitches, or move their mouth in a chewing motion. The dog may also show fear or vomit. There are several medications vets use to address this problem.2
Also known as “wobbler syndrome,” cervical spondylomyelopathy often affects larger breeds. Doberman pinschers are particularly susceptible. Even though most dogs with this condition are diagnosed by the age of three, symptoms can develop at any age.
Signs of cervical spondylomyelopathy, which affects the spine near the neck, include:
- A loss of muscle tone (particularly in the legs and near the shoulder blades)
- Neck pain
- Muscle spasms
Scientists aren’t sure why this condition develops. Veterinarians often try conservative methods to address cervical spondylomyelopathy. These include medications and rest. Spinal surgery may be needed in some cases.3
Lyme disease occurs when a tick that carries the infection bites a dog. While Lyme disease is a common tick-borne disease, it only leads to symptoms about 10 percent of the time.
Besides muscle spasms, other symptoms include lameness, fever, and general malaise.
Kidney problems can develop in severe cases of Lyme disease. Symptoms of possible kidney problems include:
- Weight loss
- Appetite loss
- Increased urination
- Excessive thirst
Antibiotics are the most common medications used to address the infection. They help reduce the chances that kidney issues will develop.4
Canine distemper, a contagious viral disease, can be devastating for a dog’s health. It can lead to failure of the central nervous system and the respiratory system. Affected dogs can suffer paralysis, seizures, depression, and cough.
While there’s no cure, a vaccination can prevent the canine distemper virus. If you suspect your dog has distemper, see a veterinarian immediately.5
Tetanus is a disease caused by a bacterium known as Clostridium tetani. The bacterium produces a toxin that causes an infection. The infection affects the spine, brain, and nerves, leading to muscle spasms. While dogs and cats can get tetanus, it’s more prevalent in horses and humans.
The C. tetani bacterium is common in the environment. You’ll find it in the soil, as well as dust. It also thrives in the feces of animals. When it enters the bloodstream of an animal, it reproduces, producing a toxin in the process. This toxin, tetanospasmin, is what moves to the brain and spine.
Tetanus symptoms include muscle rigidity and spasms. Animals affected with tetanus may have a rigid walk, and they may not be able to bend their legs.
Fast treatment can reduce the symptoms of tetanus. This often involves a veterinarian administering antibiotics or an antitoxin medication. The antitoxin works by keeping the tetanus toxin from attaching to nerve cells. Surgery may be necessary to remove infected tissue.6
Is your dog getting enough calcium? Signs of a possible calcium deficiency may include:
- Repeated twitching
- Stiff muscles
- Frequent panting
Calcium is an electrolyte, meaning it helps control the amount of fluid in the cells. It also helps to send energy impulses through the body.
Cells need calcium to help muscles contract and to send signals to the brain. Severe kidney problems could be one contributing factor to a calcium deficiency.7
Intervertebral Disc Disease
This condition can lead to not only spasms but also a loss of feeling in the hind limbs due to damage to the vertebrae. It usually affects smaller breeds but can affect larger ones as well. The disease affects the intervertebral disc, which acts as a shock absorber for the spine.
When the disc becomes dehydrated, it will fail to do its job. This leads to pressure on the spinal cord and spinal canal. In some instances, a pinched nerve also occurs in the spinal cord.
Affected dogs have a lack of appetite or cry when they’re picked up. They may not want to play, go on walks, or go up and down stairs. The prognosis is usually good for dogs with this condition. Surgery is sometimes needed in more severe cases.<sup8
Is Therapy Effective for Treating Muscle Spasms in Dogs?
Dogs may have muscle spasms or muscle cramps after suffering an injury. Medications may help to relieve their pain. But pet owners might worry about side effects.
In some instances, dog owners will try other types of remedies, such as heat or cold therapy, to ease spasms or cramping.
Here’s some information on these approaches.
It’s important to note that therapy won’t be effective for dogs suffering from neurological problems or a virus. You will need to talk to your vet to see what medications may be needed to address those types of issues.
Heat therapy is often effective for cramps or muscle spasms caused by a chronic injury. Its purpose is to help relieve spasms and decrease stiffness by using heat to increase blood flow. It is usually most effective after swelling and inflammation have subsided.
This form of therapy is beneficial for almost any body part. Heat therapy is often used on elbows, shoulders, knees, and other joints. If your dog is having spasms because of a problem with their spine, apply heat to the back or neck – if your vet says it’s okay.
You can find products that apply heat in many stores. There are wraps, heating blankets, and other devices that will work. Make sure you follow the instructions so you don’t burn your dog’s skin. You want the device to be warm, but not too hot.9
How to Perform Heat Therapy for Your Pet
Talk to your veterinarian to make sure heat therapy will be safe for your pet. If you get the go ahead, it’s easy to do.
Remember, heat therapy may help a chronic injury, such as arthritis. Don’t use it for an acute (sudden) injury, such as a fall or a collision. You use cold therapy for that kind of problem, as you’ll find out in the next section. Here’s an easy way to use heat therapy:
- Wet a towel, and place in your clothes dryer or microwave for about one minute.
- Take the towel out; it should be warm, not hot.
- Apply the towel to the affected area for about 15 minutes.
- Wait 15 minutes before repeating the procedure.10
Your veterinarian will let you know how many times per day you should try this form of therapy.
Again, you use cold therapy to help bring relief for muscle cramps or spasms caused by a sudden injury. It helps to reduce swelling and pain, and it helps to promote faster healing.
Cold therapy, like heat therapy, is often used for the hind limbs and other joints. It’s also great for all parts of your dog’s body. You can make a homemade ice pack by filling a plastic bag or towel with crushed ice. You could also use a bag of frozen vegetables.
Put a thin piece of cloth (such as a pillowcase or old shirt) over the area first to reduce the risk of frostbite. Keep the ice pack in place for about 15 minutes, and repeat every six hours or so.11 Again, though, make sure your vet says it’s okay to use cold therapy.
Some pet owners believe that massage therapy is the best method for their pet. And canine massage therapy can be very effective. Your veterinarian may be able to perform this type of therapy, or they may refer you to a specialist.
Massage therapy involves using the hands to help relieve muscle spasms and tension. It helps your dog maintain a full range of motion. Massage therapy can also help relax the muscles and help prevent injury.
While this form of therapy is safe, a trained professional should perform it. If it’s not done the right way, it could actually worsen muscle spasms and pain. Skip massage therapy if your dog has:
- Inflammatory arthritis
- A torn muscle
- Infected wounds12
Physical therapy is beneficial for dogs, just like humans. It can help build up damaged connective tissue and muscles, and help dogs that need to lose weight.
Massage therapy is a type of physical therapy, as is exercise. Hydrotherapy involves the use of water exercise to help dogs with certain types of joint problems. Treadmills and exercise balls are also used, as is ultrasound.13
Can a Dog Receive Physical Therapy at Home?
Physical therapy usually takes place in a clinical setting. But in some cases, a veterinarian will recommend home physical therapy. Home physical therapy is good for pets who experience stress at the vet’s office or animal hospital.
Before you start any therapy routine, you’ll want to make sure your dog is calm and relaxed. A gentle massage should do the trick. Some experts recommend soothing music, or even aromatherapy. It’s also important not to overdo it and make your dog exhausted.
If you want to help your dog at home, you need to talk to your vet or another professional about how to do it safely. Talk to a trained professional about the best techniques to use to make sure you won’t hurt your pet.14
Medications for Dog Muscle Spasms
Medications are available for dogs suffering from muscle spasms and cramping. Muscle relaxers, such as methocarbamol for dogs, may reduce spasms and act as a sedative.
Another type of muscle relaxer is guaifenesin. This works by blocking nerve impulses to the brain and spinal cord. It’s often administered via an IV in conjunction with anesthesia during surgery.15
Talk to your veterinarian about medications for spasms and to find what dose your pet may need.
What if My Dog Twitches While Sleeping?
Almost every dog owner has noticed a dog twitching while asleep. While this can be disconcerting to watch, all it means is your pup is dreaming. This happens during deep sleep.
Researchers believe that certain breeds have somewhat specialized dreams. A Springer Spaniel, for instance, may try to flush out a bird they’re dreaming about. A Pointer may, as the name of the breed implies, point at game.
Another interesting fact is that smaller dogs tend to have more dreams than larger dogs. Chihuahuas, for example, dream as often as every 10 minutes. Puppies and older dogs tend to dream more than middle-aged pets.16
Can I Stop Muscle Tremors in my Dog?
Dog muscle spasms or seizures can be scary, making you worry about your pet’s health and well-being. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot you can do to stop them from happening without the help of a veterinarian. There are several ways you can help your pet manage this problem.
Help your pup avoid excessive stress or excitement, to give them the best quality of life possible. Limit aggressive play.
Remember: these are temporary lifestyle changes. Most conditions that cause muscle spasms, cramping, or seizures can be addressed by your vet. This will allow your pup to get back to normal and lead a happy, healthy life.17