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2016 Specialty



White Shaker Syndrome in Dogs

Shaker syndrome is a disorder which causes a dog's entire body to shake. It is also known as idiopathic cerebellitis, which describes inflammation of the cerebellum (the part of the brain that is responsible for the coordination and regulation of voluntary muscular movement) for unknown reasons. While dogs of any coat color can be affected, those with a white hair coat are over-represented in the medical literature. For example, Maltese and West Highland white terriers appear to be predisposed. In addition, both genders are affected by shaker syndrome, especially young to middle-aged dogs. White dog shaker syndrome is not painful for the dog, and it will not affect the mental state of your dog.

  • Symptoms and Types— The first symptoms of White dog shaker syndrome will normally appear when the dog is around 1-2 years of age, and the attacks will often come when the dog is stressed. (White dog shaker syndrome can however appear in dogs no older than 6 months, while other dogs are over 3 years of age at the time of
    their first episode.) include nystagmus (involuntary eye movement), walking
    problems, and seizures. The disease derives its name from the tremors that can affect the entire body of the dog. Diffuse body tremors, may be mistaken for anxiety, or low body temperature (hypothermia).
  • Causes —Although a dog may be affected by the syndrome due to unknown reasons (idiopathic), it is most often associated with mild central nervous system disease. One theory suggests that the problems are caused by an autoimmune-induced generalized deficiency of neurotransmitters. The term autoimmune-induced means that the dog is attacked by its own immune system. When dogs suffering from White dog shaker syndrome have their cerebrospinal fluid analyzed, it will quite often reveal an unusually high number of lymphocytes.
  • Diagnosis—The veterinarian will make this diagnose based on the symptoms displayed by your dog, and test your dog to rule out other possible reasons behind this type of symptoms, including standard laboratory work, such as a blood chemical profile, a complete blood count, a urinalysis and an electrolyte panel to rule out other diseases. A cerebrospinal fluid (fluid from the spinal cord) sample may also be taken by your veterinarian and sent to the laboratory for analysis of the nervous system. Dogs suffering from White dog shaker syndrome will usually have perfectly normal spinal and higher reflexes, voluntary motor functions, cranial nerve function, and conscious awareness of limb positioning.
  • Treatment—Depending on how severe the tremors are, and your dog's overall condition, care will be given inpatient or outpatient. If your dog is very ill as the result of tremors, or if there is an underlying condition or infection, your dog will be hospitalized until its health stabilizes. The primary treatment for neurological shaker syndrome is the use of corticosteroids for reducing the inflammatory response in the body. Most dogs recover in a week although some rare patients never entirely recover. The steroids will be gradually reduced over the course of a few months until they are not being used anymore. Steroid treatment will be  reinstated if symptoms recur, and in some cases, steroid treatment will need to be continued for a longer period and possible even the lifetime of the dog in order to maintain health.
  • Living and Management—Your veterinarian will schedule weekly evaluations for your dog for the first month after the initial treatment. Thereafter, your veterinarian will schedule monthly follow-up appointments with you for your pet until the corticosteroids are discontinued. Dogs that receive early treatment will normally get better and recover completely within a week. Lifelong treatment can however be necessary to keep the problems under control.
  • Prevention—*Even if your dog seems completely recovered you should never stop treatment without consulting your vet, because the symptoms can resurface if treatment is ended prematurely. There are currently no known preventative measures for this medical condition.

Other health problems can occur in your Maltese. If you notice anything unusual with your dog, take it to the vet immediately. This webpage is for general information only and is not intended to be a medical guide.

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