Can dogs have restless leg syndrome?

Seeing your dog in distress can be troubling, especially if you don’t know what’s causing it. If your dog has a limb uncontrollably, do they have restless leg syndrome? Is the condition dangerous?

It’s unclear whether or not dogs suffer from restless leg syndrome the same way humans do. However, we know that restless, shaky limbs are often an indicator of a serious health problem, such as neurological disease or spinal cord injury. 

In this article, I’ll talk more about restless leg syndrome, whether or not it exists in dogs, and what you should do if your dog has a shaky leg. Stick around to learn more. 

Does Restless Leg Syndrome Exist in Dogs?

First of all, what even is restless leg syndrome? 

Restless leg syndrome, known medically as the Willis-Ekbom Disease, is a condition that causes people with it to feel a powerful, uncomfortable, near-irresistible urge to move their legs. 

The uncomfortable sensation caused by RLS goes away with leg movement. 

It’s quite common in humans (it affects up to 10% of people in the US) and pretty annoying if you have it, but relatively easy to manage with the miracles of modern healthcare. 

But does it exist in dogs? 

Well, that’s not exactly clear. Some sources claim that it does, but it’s hard to back up that claim scientifically. 

We still don’t understand RLS fully. But in humans, the condition can be linked to genetic reasons, a deficiency in iron, or an imbalance in dopamine. 

That’s not the case when it comes to canines. 

Canines usually develop shaky, trembling legs when they have a spinal cord injury or neurodegenerative disease. Unfortunately, this is true for the vast majority of cases. 

You can think of it this way: 

If you see a dog with a shaky leg, you could also say that its leg is restless. 

But it would be incorrect to say that the dog has restless leg syndrome or Willis-Ekbom disease since we haven’t confirmed the existence of this condition in canines. 

Not yet, at least. Maybe that will change with our understanding of RLS in the future. 

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But for now, RLS doesn’t exist in dogs, at least from a purely technical standpoint. 

Unfortunately, restless legs in canines usually indicate an underlying health problem that needs addressing. 

Does Your Dog Have Restless Legs?

Before your panic, it’s very important to accurately diagnose what’s happening so that you know what to do next. 

Consider the following:

  • Is your dog cold? Dogs shiver to raise their body heat just like we do when we’re cold. Try warming your dog up to see if the restlessness goes away. 
  • Is the restlessness localized to a single leg? If not, and your dog looks somewhat fidgety all over, could it be that they’re excited or want to exercise?
  • Is your dog scared? Dogs quiver when they’re afraid of something. 
  • Did your dog ingest something toxic? Toxins can cause nerve damage, which leads to involuntary muscle movement. Many foods edible for humans are toxic to dogs – chocolate is a famous example. 

If the trembling is acute and goes away shortly, you might not have anything to worry about. 

However, you should talk to your veterinarian if it’s recurring or long-term. Let them know about any accompanying symptoms so they can best diagnose the underlying problem. 

You should not delay or wait for the restlessness to go away on its own. If caused by anything serious, leg quivering won’t self-resolve and needs to be looked at immediately. 

6 Reasons Why Your Dog Is Shaking or Shivering

What Causes Dogs to Develop Restless Legs

Here are the most common reasons dogs develop restless legs. 


Dogs lose joint health and functionality as they age. Most develop arthritis by the time they reach senior age. Dogs with genetic hip dysplasia are more likely to suffer from joint pain. 

Larger dogs are more prone to the effects of natural joint health deterioration since their skeleton has more mass to support. Obesity exacerbates the issue for the same reason. 

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Pain tremors can also be caused by physical injury to the limb; internal injuries are not easily recognizable. 

Spinal Injury

Signals from the brain are sent to the body via the spinal cord. An injury to the spinal cord, even a minor one, can disrupt these signals, resulting in shakiness, trembling, spams, or worse yet, paralyzation of the affected limb. 

Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD) refers to herniated or bulging discs (or disc fluid) that can place pressure on the spinal cord. It’s more common in older dogs but can happen at any time. 

Degenerative Myelopathy causes weakening and eventual paralysis of the hind legs. It does not affect the front legs. 

Neurological Disease

There are a variety of neurological disorders that affect dogs, and many of them feature tremors and quivering as a symptom. 

Generalized Tremor Disorder is one of the more common. However, it affects the whole body, not just the limbs. 


Medications administered to treat neurological conditions can also cause dogs to develop tremors in their limbs or other parts of the body. 

If your dog has developed a restless limb after being administered a medicine or a vaccine, you should seek immediate medical attention, as it may have an allergic reaction. 

What You Should Do

As you can see, there’s a lot to be concerned about. 

Suppose your dog develops a restless leg very suddenly. In that case, the likely culprits are food poisoning, toxin ingestion, an allergic reaction to a medicine, and physical injury to the limb or spinal cord. 

If the onset of restlessness is gradual but persistent, the odds of your dog suffering from a degenerative skeletal or neuromuscular disease are much more likely. 

Either way, this is not something you can deal with at home. 

I recommend you speak with your veterinarian at the earliest. Many of the diseases responsible for tremors and spasms are best identified as early as possible. 

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Nadine Oraby

My name is Nadine; I am a passionate writer and a pet lover. People usually call me by the nickname “Joy” because they think that I am a positive and joyful person who is a child at heart. My love for animals triggered me to create this blog. Articles are written by vets, pet experts, and me. Thanks for visiting. Your friend, Nadine!