First recognized in small-breed white dogs (such as maltese, Bichons, terriers and poodles), white dog shaker syndrome, contrary to its name, can affect dogs of any size or color.
What is it? Affected dogs develop mild to severe tremors, which may cause difficulty in standing or walking. No other health concerns or neurological problems are visible, and the pet usually remains alert.
Stress and excitement, as well as trying to perform simple tasks, such as eating, seem to worsen the tremors, while relaxation seems to lessen them. This condition does not seem to cause any pain or show any impact on his mental state.
As with many medical conditions, there are quite a few names for this one, including shaker dog syndrome, little white shakers syndrome, and the term many veterinarians prefer — steroid responsive tremor syndrome.
This strange condition has never been fully understood — not even the cause. While one theory suggests that the dog is being attacked by its own immune system, others point to viral infection or swelling of the cerebellum, the area of the brain that controls movement and balance.
Dogs most often affected with this syndrome are young adults between 1 and 6 years old. The first symptoms normally appear around 1 or 2 years of age, although white dog shaker syndrome has been found in younger puppies. The shakes sometimes cause the dog to fall over when he tries to walk.
- Walking problems
- Random body tremors
- Involuntary eye movement
- Head tilt
- Poor coordination
Symptoms often get worse over a one- to three-day period, then remain stable until veterinary care is given.
Diagnosis begins with ruling out other possible reasons for the tremors. Low blood sugar and imbalances in potassium, sodium or calcium can be detected through simple blood tests. Ruling out seizures is very important, since some seizures, known as focal seizures , have similarities in appearance of tremors and shakes. Videotaping one of your pet’s shaking episodes may be helpful in your veterinarian’s diagnosis.
Benzodiazepines can be prescribed to help control the symptoms. However, 25% of affected dogs continue to have some degree of tremors throughout their life. The same goes for dogs left untreated — after several weeks of shaking, the tremors may go away only to resurface at a later time.
Predisone, a corticosteroid, may help trigger remission. Some veterinarians prefer using these two medications together. Once the dog responds to the treatment, the steroid dose is lowered or stopped altogether.
The sooner treatment is received, the quicker the recovery will be. There are some things you can do at home to help your pet through his recovery period:
- Make sure his food and water dishes are in a location he can easily access.
- Avoid exciting or stressful situations for a while — keep your dog as calm as possible.
- Don’t allow him to go up or down stairways or steps, which may cause injury to him.
- Delay long walks or lengthy play times with him until his tremors lessen.
A friend of mine bought a puppy who was experiencing tremors at eight weeks old (prompting the pup to affectionately be named “Shaky”). The veterinarian diagnosed him with “shakers syndrome,” and treatment was given. Today, thanks to the proper medical care and an owner who totally adores him, Shaky is an energetic 6-year -old.
As I am noted for saying, “Prevention is the best cure,” but when there is no known cause, there is no prevention. Giving your pet the medical attention he needs and keeping him happy and comfortable is the best you can do when dealing with white dog shaker syndrome.
- Purdue University: Identifying a white shaker dog
- Mike Richards, DVM: White dog shaker syndrome
- Jon Geller, DVM: Little white dog shaker syndrome