Spasms in your dog's muscles may occur as a localized issue. For instance, if a dog hurts a leg, that same leg may experience some involuntary movement known as dog muscle spasms. These may also occur due to misfiring in the nervous system, particularly in the brain, where both voluntary and involuntary movement is controlled. Therefore, some conditions that cause dog muscle spasms are directly related to neurological disorders, which often cause seizures.
Table of Contents
- Dog Muscle Spasms What You Need to Know (and Do)
- Causes of Dog Muscle Spasms
- Veterinary Care for Dog Muscle Spasms
- At Home Care for Dog Muscle Spasms
- How to Prevent Muscle Spasms in Dogs
Both non-epileptic seizures and epileptic seizures in dogs are made up of many 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 independently, it is typically a symptom of a less severe medical condition or health issue. It’s important to know the specific cause of dog muscle spasms before treating this condition yourself. Here's everything you must know about it.
Dog Muscle Spasms
What You Need to Know (and Do)
Causes of Dog Muscle Spasms
There is no single reason for dog muscle spasms to occur, and each cause has 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 the REM cycle, your dog's deepest sleep is achieved. During this time, 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, 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 wake your pet up carefully. 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.
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 its gait. Additionally, head trauma which affects the brain’s ability to calibrate limb movement, could lead to dog muscle spasms.
Although a rare side effect, low blood sugar in hypoglycemic canines may cause muscle spasms and seizures. It's very uncommon, but sometimes diabetic dogs will experience muscle twitching and similar dog muscle spasm condition symptoms.
When a dog plays or runs a little too hard or too long, its 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 heatstroke in dogs, which are also associated with seizures.
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 failure of kidneys and the nervous system's over-activity, which both cause seizures in dogs.
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 various ways, making it extremely easy for an unaffected dog to become infected. The dog doesn’t even have to interact closely or with an infected animal 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 viral contagion is dangerous to other dogs even before they begin to show symptoms.
Canine distemper virus affects the dog's nervous and respiratory systems, among other organs. In particular, the virus's attack on the canine's nervous system is what causes seizures. It can lead to paralysis, dog muscle spasms being just a transitional period before more serious symptoms appear.
A condition rarely talked about, dystonia may be inherited or developed within dogs and is a severe neurological disorder. Its most common and recognizable symptom is chronic, involuntary (sometimes disabling) dog muscle spasms. A pet with dystonia is likely to experience anxiety and depressive disorders, often due to 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 due to psychological stress, sometimes referred to as hyperthermia syndrome in dogs.
Studies have shown that over-exercising dogs can also induce it, and it can be successfully treated if done in time and aggressively. Canine stress syndrome symptoms include anxiety, hyperthermia, and involuntary dog muscle spasms, as well as severe seizures.
Veterinary Care for Dog Muscle Spasms
Unless 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 the dog's brain's electric activity. 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 result from poisoning, they will give your pet injections to induce vomiting (typically a drug called Apomorphine). They may also choose to utilize IV fluids to flush any toxicity from the 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. Another 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 injuries, 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, determining 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. An elimination diet may be recommended, and most common foods for dogs with muscle spasms will usually be more holistic, organic human-grade, and the 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 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.
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
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 don’t have to experience first-hand mentally.
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 helps them 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 an injury that makes getting around more difficult, place water bowls in multiple locations around the house, so they don't have to travel far.
Chaperoning playtime with other dogs
Watch carefully when your dog interacts with others, whether 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 of 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 future dog muscle spasm attacks. The most common four signs are:
- Excessive licking and/or pacing (a sign of nervousness)