Why do Pets Twitch When Their Skin is Touched?

Cat lovers take note: this entry does not just cover dogs! My 3-year-old Rottie/Shepherd mix seems to be very touch sensitive. He quivers when he's...


Cat lovers take note: this entry does not just cover dogs!

My 3-year-old Rottie/Shepherd mix seems to be very touch sensitive. He quivers when he’s touched on his flanks and back. It seems to be in surprise rather than pain, as if he’s not expecting to be touched, though he doesn’t react similarly to touch elsewhere and he doesn’t object to it – it just seems to surprise him. He doesn’t whine or otherwise vocalize. He sees his vet regularly and is in good health.

South Austin, TX

Trembling and quivering are very common in pets. Almost anything that can make a human tremble or quiver can make a pet do so as well. There are some exceptions. For instance, I have yet to see a dog or cat tremble upon hearing his favorite piece of music.

Certain medical conditions and metabolic irregularities can lead to trembling, quivering, or increased sensitivity to touch. But based upon your description I doubt that your dog has a medical problem.

Every person has experienced a chill go down the spine when his or her skin was touched in just the right way. That is what I suspect is happening in your dog.

The most sensitive area on many pets is along the back, especially near the tail. This area appears to have highly sensitized nerve endings. Many cats especially are prone to twitching their skin when this area is stroked. Some cats are so sensitive in this area that they engage in compulsive grooming behavior when scratched near the base of the tail.

Flea allergies sometimes exacerbate the sensitivity of the skin and may cause increased twitching when pets are handled. But I am guessing that fleas aren’t playing a role in your dog’s behavior. As long as your dog doesn’t seem distressed when you pet him, I see nothing to worry about.

Photo: there are no reports of excessive skin sensitivity in Sophie.

14 thoughts on “Why do Pets Twitch When Their Skin is Touched?”

  1. We too have a pittie mix, ours is a big fatty. I noticed when I or the groomer give him a bath it goes away temporarily…1-4 days.

    Best experience when all covers are freshly dried.

    I think it is dry skin. Like the a hair follicles (however you spell it) are irritated under the skin which is dry or maybe allergies.

  2. My 5yr old terrier has also started being sensitive on his back starting just below his shoulders and goes down about 10cms. It seems to be annoying so rolls over to rub his back. No obvious pain, still eating ,drinking as normal. Im worried he has injured his spine jumping of the lounges or we are all with doggies with similar condition feeding our fur babes something that has poisons contained in the contents?

  3. I have a 3 year old female pit bull. She had this about a year ago. It subsided, she again is sensitive to touch on back andcsides, her mouth is pulled back and she scratches her one side with her back leg. She seems to enjoy it as if she needs to be scratched.
    My vet said it could be allergies. She done not trembled or wince or cry so no sign of pain.

    1. My dog does the same in the middle of his back and the base of his tail, he loves it when its patted, pet, or gently scratched. It causes him to look up, twitch his back hard, and in some spots scratch. But he always wags his tail and turns in circles for it to be touched even more. It concerns me, but he likes it. I’ve found no evidance of mites, fleas, or any kinda dandruff or irritants. While his behaviour conserns me occasionally he doesnt seem to mind at all, but he has had this problem for a long time! Did you do anything like not touch the spots, or put something on it to help it stop??

      Hes a yorkie and toy poodle mix, and is 5

    2. Same,
      I can’t tell from the strange smile effect, if she’s enjoying that area scratched or there’s an issue??
      Any other follow ups?
      I was going to look up some essential oils.. for treatment.. or anti inflammatory.. turmeric in her food.

  4. This recently started happening with my dog. I thought he was just dirty from rolling around outside. I gave him a bath with “soothing” dog shampoo, but the problem has not subsided. He is a 7 yr old Border Collie/ Am Staff mix.

    1. Laura Jean Fetko

      My Great Dane is almost 3 and this started when he was almost 1. Same exact thing and his mouth goes into a smile sort of when we stroke both shoulders. He has now had three episodes of pain where he hasn’t been able to move and the last time he was shaking/trembling in pain. The docs have ruled out neurological disorders like wobblers disease. We are wondering if it a slipped disc or similar. They treat with an inti inflamatory and pain meds. Hoping it doesn’t affect his overall life. Anyone else have this issue?

      1. We are experiencing this sane thing with our 2.5 yr old pitbull. We noticed it about a month ago when we pet his sides. The area of sensitivity seems to be getting larger. The vet said its nothing to be concerned about but we still are! Did the anti inflammatory work?? He has always loved to be pet and now we cant touch him there, we are afraid hes in pain

        1. My 8 yr lab mix just started this — smiling twitch and flinch when I pet her one side around her front shoulder area..
          no yelps?
          No “pain” per say, par uncomfortably surprised or a nerve ???

  5. Hi ….My pet began having this after her Pyometra operation, could it be nerve damage then,.. I wonder …It towards the front legs…
    Is there a need to worry ….Otherwise she is active and playing…

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