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As a pet parent, you've most likely witnessed a ton of odd behaviors from your cat. But if you've noticed your cat shaking and shivering recently, it may have caused you to ask, "Why is my cat shaking?" There are many different reasons a cat may shiver or shake, but regardless of the cause, it can be alarming to see your cat in physical distress. Let's break down some causes of cat shivering and shaking so that you can best take care of your feline friend.
Cat Shivering Causes
Cats of all ages and breeds may shiver from time to time. Humans normally shiver when they're cold, but according to the Merck Veterinary Manual, shivering is not always a sign of a cold body temperature in cats. If you and your cat have just come from outside where the temperatures are cooler, then there's a good chance that your cat is shivering because they're cold. However, your cat may be shaking for a few other reasons.
Fear is a common cause of shivering in cats. Cats enjoy stability, and generally speaking, when their routine is altered, it makes them anxious. Shivering during a veterinary visit or a car ride is fairly common in cats. An anxious kitty may also try to hide and assume a curled up posture very low to the ground with a tucked tail. Make sure to use caution when approaching a cat who's giving off these body signals; if a cat hisses and pins back its ears, it's best to give them some space.
Why is my cat shaking? Pain is another very common cause of shivering in cats, according to Pet Health Network. Despite their reputation of being somewhat spoiled and dainty animals, cats usually don't show signs of pain until the pain is quite severe. Identifying your cat's source of pain is not something to attempt at home, both because a painful kitty is likely to lash out at you in attempts to defend themself, but also because isolating the source takes expert veterinary training. Although the average pet parent won't be able to accurately interpret that pain, if your cat begins open mouth breathing, appears reluctant to move or has a broken limb or large wound, it is essential to seek immediate veterinary care — even if that means an emergency visit.
In addition to these causes of shivering, the list of reasons a cat may shiver or tremble is seemingly endless. Anything that can make a cat feel ill can theoretically cause a cat to shiver or tremble. On any given day, you may wonder, "Why is my cat shaking?" If your intuition tells you something is off, trust your gut and consult with your veterinarian.
Clinical Signs of Cat Shivering: When to See a Vet
Cats have evolved to hide their signs of injury or sickness in order to stay out of their predators' paths, which can make it challenging to determine when your cat needs to see a vet. If you notice any of these clinical signs in combination with the shaking, seek veterinary care:
- Change in appetite
- Urinating inappropriately or straining
- Stinky breath or excessive salivation
- Increased or decreased weight
- Increased or decreased activity level
- Increased or decreased water and food intake
- Change in grooming patterns
- Chang in sleeping patterns
- Change in attitude
- Hiding more (beyond hiding when exposed to a new environment)
- Vocalization changes
Normal shivering and mild shaking are not the same as violent shaking. Shaking uncontrollably, loss of muscle control, loss of bowel and/or bladder control, excessive drooling and a loss of awareness of surroundings all indicate that there is a neurological cause, such as a seizure. This warrants emergency veterinary intervention.
Why Is My Cat Shaking: Diagnosis and Treatment
The diagnosis for a cat who is shivering or shaking differs based on the physical exam and what diagnostic tests are warranted given the cat's condition. A basic blood cell count, a biochemistry panel and a urine analysis are starting points for diagnosing a shivering cat and may identify clues. The Merck Veterinary Manual explains that elevated calcium levels in the bloodstream can cause cats to shiver and can be linked to renal disease, adrenal gland disease, parathyroid disease, dietary causes or chewing on poisonous household plants. As you can imagine from this list, your vet will have to do unique tests to isolate the cause when it isn't obvious. Depending on the diagnosis, each will require unique treatment methods.
Most causes of shaking and shivering in cats do not indicate a life-threatening problem, but it can be a signal that something is amiss. Although the prognoses of internal cat conditions may vary, fear/anxiety and mild pain are two of the most common causes for why a cat shakes, and they can usually resolve entirely when the fearful or painful event passes. If you're concerned about your cat's shaking, be sure to visit your local vet to find the best course of treatment.
Dr. Laci Schaible
Dr. Laci Schaible is a small animal veterinarian, entrepreneur, author, and speaker. A graduate of Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine and Wake Forest University School of Law, Dr. Schaible is passionate about progressive change in the veterinary industry and serves as an advisor on a number of boards within the field.