Pet health: Are muscle spasms in dogs a sign of a more serious problem?

If your dog begins to exhibit spasming of the muscles, this may be indicative of something far more serious than just a twitch.
Most people who’ve ever owned dogs have seen their pet ‘chasing rabbits in their sleep,’ but should a pet owner be concerned if their dog continues to exhibit these behaviorisms, upon wakening? What about dogs that seem to make a continual chewing motion, or dogs that have twitchy spasms in their legs?

There are so many questions, the term ‘spasm’ often being defined differently, from person to person. Are they something that a pet owner should be concerned about? Should the pet be taken to a veterinarian? The answer to this is very simple: If your dog shows behavior that differs from normal, if he begins doing things that his owner considers to be ‘strange’, it is always the safest bet to have him examined by your family veterinarian or, at the very least, consult their office and ask for their opinion on what you should do.

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Pet health


Animals are not able to inform us when they are feverish or ill. Quite often, the only way of knowing that something is amiss is to realize that your pet’s daily routine has changed. Dogs, especially, tend to be creatures of habit, hence why we are able to train them to go to the door, or teach them tricks. When a dog fails to greet his owner at the door, like usual, or hides from a stranger when they would normally bark, this is their way of telling us that something is wrong.

Physical signs also alert us to illness or pain; loss of weight, dull fur or a hot and dry nose. All of these are symptoms that something is going on with our pet. This is also the case with muscle spasms.

Spasms can be symptoms of a wide variety of conditions that can affect our canine friends, ranging from hereditary disease, injury or even bacterial infections. If you notice your dog experiencing any kind of spasm, a good rule of thumb is to grab a piece of paper and write down approximately what time the spasms began and where they began on your pet. Did they start around his face, along his back, in his limbs, or was it an overall contraction of muscles, throughout your dog? Also jot down any other strange things you note about your dog at the time, like whether this happened after a vigorous game of Frisbee or after he jumped down off the couch. While these things may not seem important, at the time, they can be helpful to your veterinarian in diagnosing the problem, as well as helping you to stay calm and focus on details.

Epilepsy can occur in any dog, though the Idiopathic variety of this disorder is far more common in purebred dogs and has been proven to run in certain lines. For this reason, misinformed individuals often explain Epilepsy as being a hereditary disorder. Belgian tervuerens, beagles, dachshunds, German shepherds, keeshonds, boxers, cocker spaniels, golden retrievers, Irish setters, labrador retrievers, collies, schnauzers, poodles, dalmatians and st. bernards are breeds known to be prone to this disorder, though it should never be ruled out, simply because your dog is not one of those breeds. Epilepsy can also be triggered within dogs who suffer from low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), dogs that have ingested toxins or even from something as simple as over-exerting themselves on a hot day.

When the term ‘epilepsy’ is heard, we often try to picture our dog as we would a human, suffering from a seizure disorder. If you wish to consider it as such, you must also realize that a human seizure can have varying degrees of intensity, the same as a dog. Sometimes, a simple twitch can be a warning of what is to come. If your dog begins to convulse, it is important to attempt to cushion any hard or sharp objects near him and to try to keep him as calm as possible until the episode passes or you can get him into the clinic.

Never attempt to put your fingers in the dog’s mouth, in an attempt to keep him from choking on his tongue! A dog that is suffering from a seizure cannot control his muscles, and the risk of being severely bitten is very great at this time. When the muscles seize violently, the jaw automatically clenches and even the gentlest old pet can seriously harm their beloved master.

Tetanus can also cause involuntary muscle spasms throughout the body. Caused by an anaerobic bacterium called clostridium tetani, this condition occurs when bacteria enters a deep open wound and releases a toxin into the body. This toxin then prevents the release of inhibitory neurotransmitters in the brain and spinal cord, causing the muscles to spasm and contract until they become rigid. Tetanus often contracts the facial muscles and causes the jaw to become rigid (hence why it was more commonly referred to as “lockjaw”) but it is interesting to note that it can also effect the limbs, as well as the internal muscles that control respiration and the heart. If your dog has been injured and shows symptoms like muscle spasms several days later, be sure to bring this to your veterinarian’s attention. While there is no tetanus vaccine available for dogs, it will give your veterinarian an idea of what he may be dealing with and save valuable time.

Muscular dystrophy is another disease that, while we see people suffering with it, we don’t commonly attribute such occurrences to our canine friends. Unfortunately, they are very capable of suffering from M.D. as well. While the dystrophin gene is located on the X chromosome, with the majority of disease-causing mutations occurring within males, some females have also been known to fall victim, as well. Much like their human counterparts, dogs suffering from M.D. may experience involuntary muscle spasming, loss of muscle control as well as atrophy and death.

Some dogs have been known to suffer spasms about the facial area, which give them the appearance of constantly chewing. Some cases of this have been linked to a condition known as masticatory mysositis or eosiophilic myositis, where the muscles of the jaw slowly begin to degenerate. While the true cause of this condition is yet unknown, it is suspected to be an autoimmune problem, similar to humans that suffer Lupus, where the body is actually allergic to itself. People have also noticed this jaw-twitching condition in dogs that are prone to seizure activity as well, and those suffering from rabies have also been known to show signs of muscle spasms, both in the facial area, as well as the limbs.

Commonly seen in labrador retrievers, is the condition once known as canine malignant hyperthermia, though it is now more frequently referred to as canine stress syndrome (CSS). CSS is a hereditary disorder that can be as simple as a few slight twitches or muscle spasms, to something as drastic as a sudden collapse and death. Usually triggered by stress or vigorous workouts, if you notice your dog suffering muscle spasms after exercise or a stressful situation, such as going to the vet or getting his vaccinations, it is very important to express this to your veterinarian. CSS can be fatal and give no warning signs so, if you suspect it, you should always voice your suspicions to your veterinarian.

Muscle spasms can also be indicative of pain or injury in our canine friends. People who breed dachshunds will often inform potential buyers of the risks of allowing their new family member to jump up and down off of furniture. While this can occur with any dog, dachshunds tend to be more susceptible to back problems, due to their unique body structure. As they jump down off of furniture, this causes concussion to the spine and can lead to herniated disks; a condition where the disks, that help to cushion vertebrae, slip out of place and put pressure upon the spinal cord. This will, quite often, cause spasm of the muscles and, if left untreated, can lead to paralysis of the limbs. Additionally, dogs suffering from osteoarthritis can also show muscle spasms, most commonly in the hips and legs.

Muscle spasms can be attributed to a wide variety of diseases and conditions, from rabies to injury. Should you notice your dog experiencing this involuntary twitching, you should always have him examined by your family veterinarian. Considering the risks that are out there, it is far better to be cautious and have him looked at, than to let something like this go, waiting until more drastic symptoms occur.

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