Why Does my French Bulldog Shake? | How to Help


French Bulldogs shake quite a bit! Whether it’s shaky legs, quivering at mealtimes, or just shaking himself off on a cold day, you may wonder if your Frenchie is feeling unwell. I’ve had the same worries about my dogs over the years, so I can tell you when shaking is normal for your dog, as opposed to when you should worry.

So, “why does my Frenchie shake,” you ask. There are two varieties of this behavior:  involuntary and voluntary. Either way, whenever your Frenchie shakes, he is responding to a sensation (physical or emotional).  Watching his body language will assist you in determining the cause of his shaking.  After a while, you will know, intuitively, what the trouble is, and when (and how) to apprprpriately intervene.

It’s not that Frenchies tremble constantly;  it’s that if they do, they can be real drama queens (or kings!).  This can cause concern for the newer Frenchie owner! We’ll cover the different styles of shaking in Frenchies, the reasons for each, and when they need your help.

Some Myths About Shaky Frenchies

If you found this article while searching the ‘net, you may be concerned about trembling in your Frenchie, as opposed to shaking himself off (I will get to that later).  I am glad that you’ve come here, because Frenchies are a breed apart from other dogs! “Dog experts” have some basic ideas about shaking which do not necessarily apply.

One of these notions is that you must call the vet anytime your dog becomes shaky. If your Frenchie needs to see the vet, shakiness might be a symptom, true; but it is not likely to be the only symptom. Trembling alone is no reason to bring your Frenchie to the vet.  Besides, an unneeded trip to your vet could even make things worse!

Another misleading idea, one often attatched to rescue dogs, is that your Frenchie is shaking because he has been traumatized….not that that doesn’t happen… What makes this a dangerous idea is that assuming it can keep you from taking the time to figure out what is truly bothering your pet, leaving him needlessly miserable.

Let’s explore the various quirky reasons why your buddy may start shaking.

Reasons for Involuntary Shaking

  • Fear
  • Apprehension
  • Emotional upset 
  • Prey sighted 
  • Excitement 
  • Physical weakness
  • Illness 
  • Cold

Don’t feel bad if your bully’s shaking seems mysterious!  Even vets wish that diagnosing his shaking was as cut-and-dried as it is for diagnosing people. As Linda Shell, DVM, says, “tremors in people are classified/described in many different ways; [but] currently, there is no formal classification scheme in dogs/cats. Veterinary neurologists often use the signalment and history, neurological examination findings, and the conditions under which the tremor is activated to develop list of likely causes.”  In other words, when it comes to figuring out why your little buddy is shaking, it’s all watching, listening, and pure gut instinct.  

Let’s take a closer look at each of the reasons mentioned above:

Fear is a Common Cause of Trembling in Frenchies

It is not unusual for Frenchies to get shaky about certain things. Be careful not to over-react if your Frenchie is fearful about something. If it’s something you can avoid, do so. If not, just gently reassure him, and let him see you going on with things as normal. 

My dogs have always gotten braver about things as they get older, although there is usually something or another they never get over. For these, there are a variety of products you can try to calm your pet enough so he is, at least, not trembling. My go-to for this is a quick spritz of Adaptil (check price here, and while there, check out the other forms of Adaptil – You may find that the plug-in diffuser or collar would suit your pup better).  A ticking clock next to him, or putting a blanket over him is often quite effective, as well.  

Common Frenchie fear-triggers include:

  • Thunder, fireworks, gunshots
  • Vet visits – in your Frenchie’s mind, nothing good ever started at the vet’s office
  • Cats – imagine meeting a cat, eye-to-eye!
  • Riding in the car – Yes, dogs do get motion-sick (article on THAT coming soon!)
  • Anything new or unfamiliar, especially objects that are fuzzy or close to his size, which brings us to “Apprehension…”

Your Frenchie may Tremble with Apprehension

Apprehension is the kind of fear your Frenchie may experience when he assesses something incorrectly. When this happens, guide your Frenchie over to the object. Reach out and touch it, so he can see that it’s not what he thinks. Your Frenchie may be apprehensive about things like these:

  • Walking through a narrow space, even though it’s wide enough for him to get through
  • Dried leaves blowing across the road – some Frenchies will think each of those leaves is a living creature
  • An object left at the curb that’s not usually there – also considered, potentially, a living creature
  • Mirrors

Emotional Upset can Bring on Trembling in a Frenchie

Frenchies can be very emotionally sensitive. Because of this, if you feel it necessary to discipline your dog, keep it brief, controlled, and right to the point. I learned this pretty quickly!  When I started yelling (out of alarm, not anger), “No! No! Bad dog,” my dog was absolutely horrified and begin shaking like Jell-O. I also realized that this did not stop the behavior I was hoping to fix; it just makes them sneaky about it.

I had one dog, who used to go into violent tremors whenever we put him in his crate. We could not understand why a dog who had seemed so comfortable in his crate at the breeder’s would be so upset in one at home. We ended up getting him the next-size-up crate, and that solved the problem. It also helped that this new crate was big enough to put his whole bed inside. The original crate was one of those plastic-shell types (Vari-Kennel); so he also seemed uncomfortable with the fact that he couldn’t see out of it from all sides.

A Frenchie may Tremble When he Sights Prey 

Not all, but some Frenchies will begin quivering if they see something they would love to chase, like a squirrel. It may be hard to tell if your dog is quivering when he spots prey, since that is not the best time to touch him. Either way, this is natural, instinctive behavior for your Frenchie, and not something that necessarily needs to be remedied, except in the case of cats.  Any time your dog shows so much of this type of interest in a cat, firmly say “leave it” to discourage the behavior. If your dog is on a leash at the time, you can reinforce this my moving him along.

The Excitement of Anticipation can Make Your Frenchie Tremble with Delight

Some Frenchies will get so excited about a treat or getting ready for a walk, they will actually start trembling. Often when this happens, their teeth will chatter, too. This kind of trembling is just from excess joy. If he wasn’t trembling, he would probably be jumping all over you; so this sort of shaking is one you will want to leave alone.

Physical Weakness as a Cause of Frenchie Trembling

If your Frenchie is doing his “doggy business,” and you see one of his front legs trembling, it may just be that he has settled into an awkward position. This can often happen if he is facing downhill at the time. Once his haunches go up, his weight shifts to his two front legs, and a dog facing downhill looks like he could go into a somersault any minute. Although I’ve never seen this actually happen, you should encourage your Frenchie to “take care of business” while you’re walking uphill, or at least try to turn around and face that way, if you see he’s getting ready to “launch.”

If it is his hindquarters that are shaking and this is something that is starting to happen regularly, there could be some physical weakness there. It may be from a hip problem. Sometimes elderly Frenchies need, literally, a helping hand back there to support them. This is a lot of bending down for you; so in order to save your back, you may find it helpful to use a support harness to assist your buddy. Arthri-Soothe is an herbal product that works very well for a lot of dogs who have this problem. 

Be sure to let your vet know about any signs of physical weakness in your Frenchie. Dr. RJ Kraemer, DVM, states that “shaking of the extremities can happen standing up or laying down, and can be progressive,” so be sure to mention this at the regular checkup. Call the vet into ther picture sooner, if there are other symptoms, or if your dog’s shakiness seems to be getting suddenly worse.

A Frenchie will often Tremble if he is Feeling Unwell

If illness is the cause of your Frenchie’s shaking, however, it will usually be accompanied by other symptoms. When my dog had too many fatty meat scraps on Christmas Eve, she trembled and threw-up on the rug. While I was cleaning that up, she threw-up again! My daughter pointed out that she was still trembling, and sure enough, she threw/up a third time! The trembling continued.  Up came Round 4! After that, the trembling stopped, and so did the vomiting. 

So you see, monitoring my own dog’s shaking helped me know how she was doing.   In that way, trembling can actually be helpful.

Sometimes, Your Frenchie is Just Shivering from the Cold

Check to see if there is a draught by his bed. The best option is to stop the draught, but you may need to relocate his bed to a warmer spot. Even your Frenchie has always been comfortable in the past, you may find him shivering with the cold as he gets older. Whether old or young, your chilly Frenchie will love having a blanket placed lovingly over him. We used to have an adorable red sweater, which my dog, Shannon, hated – at first. When he got older, though, he would run back to his bed after a walk, without stopping to let us take off the sweater. 

Pro Tip: Beware of IVDD (intervertebral disk disease)

Because of their distinctive build, French Bulldogs are more susceptible to this problem than other breeds.  Vic Kasser, a prestigious breeder of Frenchies (UVK French Bulldogs), provides a comprehensive look at this condition, which I will link to below.  If you ever suspect this, call your vet right away.  The sooner your pup is treated, the more the vet can do for him.  Some of the symptoms include:

  • “Tremors, trembling, shaking
  • Neck pain and stiffness (reluctance to move the neck and head)
  • Lowered head stance
  • Back pain and stiffness
  • Yelping unexpectedly when touched or moving”

Reasons for Voluntary Shaking (shaking himself out)

All dogs do this, but Frenchies seem to do it an awful lot!  Here are some of the reasons why they like to shake out:

  • To dry themselves off 
  • To get warm – if your Frenchie hesitates while walking with you on a cold day, please hold up for a moment – he may want to shake off the cold. A good shaking-out helps your Frenchie warm up.
  • To remove offending objects, like clothing & accessories – Don’t dress up your Frenchie if he hates it….except for the coat. That’s non-negotiable. Find a good, secure coat for your Frenchie, that he can’t shake off.  For everything else, put it on him long enough to get that cute Instagram pic. Then, you’d better get it off, before he destroys it. We thought we would have a little Christmas fun once with my pup, by putting jingle-bell bracelets on her paws. Instead of shaking madly and jingling up a storm, she just reached down and started nipping off the bells!
  • To release tension (muscle or emotional)
  • To loosen up (getting up from sleep to shake out) – our first dog, Peaches, would often be stiff when she got up from a nap. Sometimes, she would even have a charlie-horse. I noticed this doesn’t happen with our other dogs; and I’ve come to realize it’s because they get up once in a while, walk around a little, and give themselves a good shake-off from head to tail.
  • Watch for vigorous head-shaking; this can indicate a problem with his ears. 

Always let your Frenchie shake out! It’s how he gets comfortable, and shakes off bad feelings.

After a walk in the rain, protect the walls of your home by encouraging your Frenchie to shake off in the garage.  Here is a housecleaning tip: check your walls and furniture periodically in any area where your Frenchie shakes off a lot.  They can be surprisingly messy!  This is best done on a bright, sunny day, or use a flashlight to get a good look at where you need to clean up.

Hopefully, you and your Frenchie aren’t off to a shaky start; but that will turn into smooth sailing with these great Houndie Homecare tips!

Resources for Further Info

Dr. RJ Kraemer has more bully-specific insight on different types of shaking in French Bulldogs:

Dr. Linda Shell takes you on a deep-dive into how real vets diagnose shaking in your dog:

Vic Kasser’s detailed description of IVDD:

Gail McGaffigan

The owner of the Greyhound Homecare website and YouTube channel, Gail has had retired racing greyhounds as pets since 1997. Please visit our channel, too! https://www.youtube.com/c/GreyhoundHomecare

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