Home Dog Care Dog Muscle Spasms: What You Need to Know (and Do)

Dog Muscle Spasms: What You Need to Know (and Do)

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Spasms in your dog’s muscles may occur as a localized issue. For instance, if a dog hurt a leg, that same leg may experience some involuntary movement known as dog muscle spasms. These may also occur as a result of misfiring in the nervous system, particularly in the brain where both voluntary and involuntary movement are controlled. Therefore, some conditions that cause dog muscle spasms are directly related to neurological disorders, which often cause seizures.

Both non-epileptic seizures and epileptic seizures in dogs are made up of a multitude of recurring muscle spasms, the root of which is based on electrical activity in the brain. However, dog muscle spasms can and do occur outside of seizures, too. When they do occur on their own, it is typically a symptom if a less severe medical condition or health issue. It’s important to know the specific cause of dog muscle spasms before attempting to treat this condition yourself. Here’s everything you must know about it.

ALSO READ: Epileptic Seizures in Dogs – Symptoms and Treatments

Dog Muscle Spasms
What You Need to Know (and Do)

Dog Muscle Spasms - What You Need to Know (and Do)

Causes of Dog Muscle Spasms

There is no one single reason for dog muscle spasms to occur, and each cause have its own set of symptoms and means of treatment.

1. REM Cycle Twitching

If you observe muscle twitching while your dog is asleep, there’s likely nothing to be concerned about. During REM cycle, your dog’s deepest sleep is achieved. It’s also during this time that the animal’s brain experiences a higher level of activity which could explain why some dogs (as well as people) often twitch in their sleep.

Research has proven that dogs dream and so they’re probably just chasing a squirrel around in dreamland; however, if you suspect this is an adverse cause (like a seizure), attempt to carefully wake your pet up. If it isn’t a seizure, they’ll jolt right awake, but if they are experiencing a non-epileptic seizure, they’ll be much more difficult to awaken.

2. Injury

Dogs’ muscles, bones, veins, nerves, and cartilage all come together to form a complex system, which is why issues with muscles often coincide with or cause joint problems just as worn cartilage can lead to muscle wasting or atrophy.

When the dog’s body experiences a damaged joint or muscle, the muscles surrounding it will cramp or stiffen which can look like spasms and typically cause the dog to limp or change their gait. Additionally, head trauma which affects the brain’s ability to calibrate limb movement could lead to dog muscle spasms.

3. Hypoglycemia

Although a rare side effect, low blood sugar in hypoglycemic canines may cause muscle spasms and seizure. It’s very uncommon, but sometimes diabetic dogs will experience muscle twitching and similar symptoms related to dog muscle spasm condition.

4. Overexertion

When a dog plays or runs a little too hard or for too long, their muscles can suffer from the heavy activity. Lactic acid, naturally produced by the overexerted muscle tissue, builds up and creates soreness and cramps in the dog’s body, just as it does in humans.

Fatigued, your pet’s muscles will twitch, but this will typically subside on its own and relatively quickly. Time spent outdoors without water in addition to running or playing will cause severe dehydration or heat stroke in dogs, which are also associated with seizures.

5. Toxicity

Toxicity is another word for poisoning and is common in dogs as they tend to sniff out items not intended for their consumption. Wobbling is a defining characteristic of canine toxicity but could be mistaken by pet owners to be dog muscle spasms. If gone without treatment, poisoning in dogs can lead to the failing of kidneys as well as nervous system’s over-activity which both cause seizures in dogs.

6. Distemper

This is a well-known contagious virus that affects puppies and dogs without up to date vaccines and may result in symptoms like dog muscle spasms. Canine distemper can be spread in a variety of ways, making it extremely easy for an unaffected dog to become infected. The dog doesn’t even have to interact closely or at all with an infected animal in order to contract the distemper virus.

For this reason, doggie hotels, rescue organizations and kennels always require up-to-date vaccinations of your pup, as even contact with a canine suffering distemper’s bedding or food bowl will spread distemper virus if not disposed of. An infected animal with the viral contagion is a danger to other dogs even before they begin to show symptoms.

Canine distemper virus affects the dog’s nervous and respiratory systems among others organs. In particular, virus’ attack on the canine’s nervous system is what causes seizures and can lead to paralysis, dog muscle spasms being just a transitional period before more serious symptoms show up.

7. Dystonia

A condition rarely talked about, dystonia may be inherited or developed within dogs and is a severe neurological disorder. It’s most common and recognizable symptom is chronic, involuntary (sometimes disabling) dog muscle spasms. A pet with dystonia is likely to also experience anxiety and depressive disorders, often as a result of constant discomfort caused by the muscle twitching and contracting.

8. Canine Stress Syndrome (CSS)

Canine Stress Syndrome is a neurological disorder that certain breeds, such as Labrador Retrievers, are susceptible to. CSS is an uncommon yet hereditary condition and may only show symptoms as a result of psychological stress, sometimes referred to as hyperthermia syndrome in dogs.

Studies have shown that it can also be induced by over-exercising dogs, and it can be successfully treated if done in time and aggressively. Symptoms of canine stress syndrome include anxiety, hyperthermia, and involuntary dog muscle spasms, as well as severe seizures.

Veterinary Care for Dog Muscle Spasms

Veterinary Care for Dog Muscle SpasmsUnless you’re uncertain whether the dog muscle spasms are no more than isolated twitching (such as a dog involuntarily moving while asleep – see above), contact your veterinarian immediately. You should especially seek an appointment if the spasms are constant and paired with vomiting or immobility.

At the vet’s office, you’re likely to be asked a series of questions as well as provide your animal’s medical history.

If epilepsy or any other neurological disorders are suspected, the vet and their staff will utilize Electroencephalogram (EEG) testing to observe and record electric activity of the dog’s brain. If diagnosed with epilepsy, the vet will discuss dog antiepileptic drug therapy which seeks not to cure the disorder but to stabilize the dog and reduce their seizure threshold as much as possible, therefore allowing them to lead a relatively normal life.

If the staff suspects the muscle spasms are the result of poisoning, your pet will be given injections to induce vomiting (typically a drug called Apomorphine). They may choose to also utilize IV fluids to flush any toxicity from dog’s major organs.

Whenever dog muscle spasms or seizures are present, veterinarian staff will run blood work to check enzyme levels of important, internal organs. Other laboratory testing may include analysis of the urine, fecal matter, as well as spinal fluid. If a limp is present or you share information of a recent fall or other injury, they’ll take x-rays and/or CT scans.

For non-epileptic episodes in dogs, the veterinarian may prescribe an anticonvulsant medication to be taken for a trial period, which will determine the pet’s responsiveness to the drug. The staff is also likely to suggest a change in your dog’s diet, replacing kibble full of chemicals and food dyes with all-natural ingredient based meals. Elimination diet may be recommended, and most common foods for dogs with muscle spasms will usually be more holistic, organic, human grade, and vet recommended brands.

At Home Care for Dog Muscle Spasms

With a diagnosis and advice from your dog’s veterinarian, you can now take the proper steps to help alleviate discomfort and possibly even stop dog muscle spasms from occurring in the future.

A few things you can do while dog muscle spasms are occurring:

Gently massage and pet your dog

Gently massage and pet your dog

Gentle pressure to a tight or inflamed muscle will help alleviate tenseness. Less tension means muscle spasms are less likely to occur again. There are several pet massage techniques and types that you can utilize.

Apply a cold compress

Apply a cold compress

Icing an injured muscle restricts the blood vessels, helping ease inflammation and lowering the likelihood of current and future dog muscle spasms and related symptoms.

Remain calm and stay focused

Whether your dog is experiencing non-chronic muscle spasms or has been diagnosed with a seizure condition, it’s important to note that they are often not conscious during these events. While it may be scary for you to witness, you can find comfort in the fact that they aren’t having to mentally experience first-hand.

Another comforting fact for pet owners is that spasms and/or seizures in dogs typically only last at most 60-80 seconds and at least 10 to 30 seconds. Dog seizures lasting five minutes or longer are considered life-threatening and are rare. Although not ideal, dogs suffering from conditions that may cause mild to severe muscle spasm fits are perfectly capable of living long, happy lives when given the proper care and/or medication.

Knowing this will help you remain calm should they experience a fit, which in turn helps them to stay calm and makes the experience less frightening for everyone involved.

How to Prevent Muscle Spasms in Dogs

Ensure your dog stays hydrated

Dehydration can exacerbate dog muscle spasms. Always keep a cool and full water bowl both in your yard and in the home. For senior dogs, or animals recovering from injury that is making getting around more difficult, place water bowls in multiple locations around the house so they don’t have to travel far.

Chaperoning play time with other dogs

Watch carefully when your dog interacts with others, whether this is at the dog park, or in your own backyard with a dog they know very well. Chaperoning your pet’s social life will better your chances to observing injury or the potential for injury at the moment it occurs.

Know the signs

Knowing how an animal acts moments before a seizure occurs will help you prepare for any future dog muscle spasm attacks. The most common four signs are:

  • Anxiousness
  • Staggering
  • Disorientation
  • Excessive licking and/or pacing (a sign of nervousness)

READ NEXT: 5 Things to Do If Your Dog Is Paralyzed

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Kelli Pechal, VT
Kelli is a practicing Licensed Veterinary Technician and a lifelong animal lover who regularly works with pets. On top of her professional dog experience in the veterinary field, Kelli has also worked in a dog boarding facility since 2012. Kelli is also taking care of two rescue dogs of her own, a Border Collie mix and a Westie mix.