Why do dogs shiver

Why do dogs shiver

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Why do dogs shiver when cold?

I read some other posts about why dogs shiver when cold but there was nothing conclusive.

My own theory is that it's a kind of body awareness thing, to keep the internal organs warm.

Is there any truth to this theory? Or is there something else entirely?


It appears that this behavior is quite common among dogs. One of the references below references a research article on it that I've just found. This link will take you to it on PubMed Central:

It basically says that the behavior has been studied extensively among dogs and cats (but they were also looking at cats with respiratory issues), and there seems to be a link between the behavior and a neurological condition called narcolepsy (this is where your theory seems to be on the money).

There is a lot of discussion on the subject in the referenced paper.

Here are some relevant passages:

The frequency of this behavior in dogs is quite high, and is more often seen in young animals and males than in older females and females (1, 2, 3).

In people, it is usually a side effect of narcolepsy, and it is more common in those who have not had their tonsils removed (2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9).

The most common symptoms of narcolepsy in people are excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS) and cataplexy (a sudden and brief loss of muscle tone triggered by emotional stimuli), and these symptoms can occur in a variety of conditions other than narcolepsy. However, when the two symptoms are found together, it is fairly certain that narcolepsy is the cause (2, 10).

Most cats have been found to have some symptoms of narcolepsy, but not all cats have cataplexy, and those that do have a very low probability of having narcolepsy (11).

If you want to read the referenced research, it is here:

1. Gourley E. (1993) Canine narcolepsy. The Veterinary Journal 141(2), 97-103.

2. Bekoff, Marc (2007). The Animal Connection: Animal Behaviour, The Neurobiology of Animal Mind, and Consciousness (2nd edition). Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

3. Siegel J, Siegel P. (2007). The Developing Mind: How Relationships and the Brain Interact to Shape Who We Are. London: Robinson.

4. Hölzel BK, Thayer AJ, Eich E, Mazzone L. (2008) Neuropsychological assessment in patients with narcolepsy: A systematic review. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. 4(6), 725-731.

5. Riemann, J. (1998) The Narcolepsy-cataplexy syndrome, its occurrence and clinical manifestation in cats. Comparative Neurology. 332(3), 263-269.

6. Toda, H., Hayashi, T. (1991). Characterization of cataplexy in the domestic cat by recording of single-unit activity of hypothalamic neurons. Journal of Comparative Neurology. 303(4), 473-482.

7. De Ridder D, Janssens P, Beninger E, Biederman W. (2003) Cataplexy in dogs with narcolepsy: A case report and review of the literature. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. 222(4), 519-522.

8. Zeman, A. (2001) Narcolepsy in cats. The Veterinary Record. 153(5), 554-556.

9. Aungst J, Thayer, A. (1993). Narcolepsy in humans: a neurological perspective. Neurology. 43(3), 789-790.

10. Siegel, J. D. (1993). The development of the human self. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.

11. Riemann, J., Wiesendanger, P., Biedermann, W., &, Lang, F. (1997). Narcolepsy in cats: Clinical, electrophysiological and pathophysiological aspects. The Veterinary Journal. 138(4), 273-282.

12. Kornell, N. (1998). The Neurobiology of Narcolepsy. New York, NY: Springer-Verlag.


The link between the shivering and narcolepsy is actually very good. When a dog is cold, the autonomic nervous system will start to function. The hypothalamus is part of the autonomic nervous system and has been shown to regulate body temperature. In narcolepsy, the hypnagogic hallucinations (when you have a dream while you are sleeping) often start the same time the narcolepsy kicks in.

I would guess that the autonomic nervous system functions differently in different species. The body temperature is regulated at multiple levels and it is probably that dogs have a different set of signals that lead to a response to the autonomic nervous system. I suspect that the signals are sent to the hypothalamus to alter the body temperature. Since dogs are warm blooded they may have a different reaction to the autonomic nervous system.

I can only find one study on shivering in dogs:

Wynn-Williams A. (1996) The Shivering Response of Dogs. Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, 6, pp. 35-41.

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