Why Is My Cat Shivering?

A grey tabby cat with black stripes on an orange background crouching down looking afraid of something.

We all get the shivers sometimes, our cats included. Shivering in kitties can be brought on by several reasons, none of which should be ignored. While not all causes of shivering require an emergency response, some warrant a veterinary visit. This guide will help you to determine the reason why your cat is shivering and how to respond.

What is Shivering in Cats?

A grey kitten with black stripes lying on a wooded floor, next to a cardboard box looking at something in front of it.

Shivering, trembling, or shaking are all pretty synonymous with the same type of movement. We’re talking about those small, involuntary muscle contractions that can occur in the head, tail, legs, or over the whole body. They are often more pronounced when your cat is at rest. These tremors can be slow or fast twitches depending on the cause and the muscles that are involved.

What Causes Shivering in Cats?

A grey tabby cat with black strips on a box of some kind, lookign down and meowing.

The causes of shivering in cats can vary from behavioral to medical. Let’s start with the simpler ones first and work up to those with more complex causes.

1. Hypothermia

Your cat may be shivering simply because they are cold. We’ve all been there – feeling like we should have worn a heavier coat. Even though cats have a perpetual fur coat, they can still get cold if the ambient temperature is too low. Young kittens, older kitties, or cats with health issues can also have a harder time maintaining that 100-102-degree body temperature and may shiver as a result.

2. Hyperthermia

Shivering isn’t just a symptom of being cold. On the flip side of the temperature coin, kitties can shiver when they get too hot. Fevers are often a result of viral or bacterial infections, which can cause a cat to shiver.

3. Hypoglycemia

Cats need to maintain a certain glucose level in their blood to feed tissues and organs, mainly the brain and heart. A drop in blood sugar can lead to shivering or tremors. Low blood sugar can occur because a cat hasn’t been eating or diseases like diabetes.

4. Fear and Anxiety

We’ve all heard the term “scaredy-cat” to refer to someone afraid or apprehensive about doing something. Well, it can be used to describe cats as well. Our feline friends can develop fears or phobias to things like loud noises, flashing lights, and strangers. In response to their fears, they release the stress hormone cortisol, which can lead to shakes and shivers. Nervous or scared cats may also have dilated pupils, want to remain motionless, or try to hide to avoid their fear.

5. Chronic Kidney Disease

As a cat owner, you’ve no doubt heard about the prevalence of kidney disease, especially in older kitties. When the kidneys aren’t functioning properly, they don’t filter the blood efficiently, leading to a buildup of waste products that can become toxic if high enough levels are reached in the bloodstream. These products can cause trembling and even lead to seizures if left untreated.

6. Pain

When a cat is ill or injured, the accompanying pain and discomfort can cause trembling or shaking. This is related to their stress response and may be seen in localized areas or all over the body.

7. Toxicity

Many toxins can cause tremors or shivering in cats. These toxins can be from plants or chemicals and require immediate treatment.

8. Nervous System Disturbances

A disruption in the nervous system causes some shivering in cats. This can be due to an injury or illness that causes inflammation of the nerves leading to conductance disturbances. Some kitties can be born with deformities that cause trembling as well.

What To Do If Your Cat is Shivering

A grey, tan cat with black stripes looking sheepish inside of a blue and white cat carrier.

All shivering in cats should be taken seriously. If your cat’s shaking can’t be controlled by turning up the thermostat, it’s time to see your veterinarian. They can diagnose and treat causes of shivering such as illness, injury, or toxicity. 

In general, if your cat experiences sudden onsets of shivering, you’ll want to see your veterinarian as soon as possible.

For cats that are shivering due to fear or anxiety, give them a quiet place to relax away from the fearful stimuli. Prevention can be just as important. For example, if you know your cat is afraid of thunderstorms and there’s one in the forecast this afternoon, preemptively place them in a quiet, safe spot with some white noise, their favorite toys, and a comfy bed.

You can prevent other causes of shivering by keeping your kitty as healthy as possible. Stay up-to-date on vaccinations and see your veterinarian regularly. 

How is Shivering in Cats Treated?

A small grey kitten with black stripes on an examination table. A man wearing blue scrubs is holding the kitten as if examining it.

Treatment of shivering depends on treating the underlying condition. Toxicities need to be decontaminated; pain needs to be relieved, and fevers need to be reduced, etc. That is why seeing your veterinarian is vital. They may be able to diagnose the underlying cause and provide the proper treatment to get your cat’s shivering under control.

In some instances of nervous system disorders, surgery may be necessary to reduce shivering, or medications that reduce muscle movements may be needed.

Is Shivering the Same as Tremors?

A black and light brown cat lying on a cushion looking at something in front of them. The cat looks a little timid or scared.

Tremors are defined as involuntary, rhythmic muscle contractions causing shaking movements in one or more parts of the body. Sounds pretty similar to shivering, right? Tremors and shivering are terms often used interchangeably. However, tremors more commonly refer to a symptom associated with a neurological issue, like a brain injury or a congenital deformity. 

Conclusion

Don’t brush off any shivering in your cat. The reason behind it may require veterinary attention or, at the least, some environmental changes. It’s also important to note any other symptoms or abnormalities in your kitty that might go along with or explain their shivering, such as decreased appetite, cough, or leg weakness.

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