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Shaker syndrome is a condition in which your dog suffers from tremors – often mistaken for your pup being cold or for anxiety. Although shaker syndrome is an uncommon disorder, severe tremors can result in your dog being ill and uncomfortable, so understanding the disorder and having an awareness of it is important. It can be alarming to see your poor little pooch in this condition but don’t worry, there are things you can do to manage the syndrome and keep your dog their happy-go-lucky self!
Discover exactly what shaker syndrome is, including how to treat the disorder, what some of the main symptoms are and what the causes may be.
- What is Shaking Syndrome in Dogs?
- Symptoms of Shaker Syndrome in Dogs
- Causes of Shaker Syndrome in Dogs
- Diagnosis of Shaker Syndrome in Dogs
- Treatment and Prevention of Shaker Syndrome in Dogs
- Final Notes
What is Shaker Syndrome in Dogs?
Shaker syndrome refers to a generalized tremor disorder in dogs and can also be referred to as idiopathic cerebellitis.1 By “tremors” we are referring to unintentional, rhythmic muscle movements that the dog cannot stop or prevent on their own.2 These tremors can also affect the head and eyes and appear in a constant form, although dogs can often stay aware of the whereabouts of their owners during these onsets.3
Tremors differ in severity case by case. Some dogs with shaker syndrome have such severe tremors that they have a wobbly, uncoordinated gait – a change called hypermetria.3 However, there are a range of other diseases and disorders that also cause hypermetria and tremors, so your veterinarian should do a thorough check before concluding that the disorder is shaker syndrome.
The syndrome tends to affect small, white dogs of either sex, although dogs of any coat can be affected.1 This neurological disease is more prominent in dogs aged between five months to three years.2 Shaker syndrome is rarely lethal.3
Symptoms of Shaker Syndrome in Dogs
The most obvious symptom is of course the physical tremors which are very easy to recognize. Consulting with a licensed veterinarian will ensure that your pup gets diagnosed with the correct disorder, as other diseases that affect the nervous system, epilepsy and others can also result in tremors. Tremors can also occur in dogs who have consumed foods which are toxic to dogs. Alongside the tremors, dogs with shaker syndrome may develop a head tilt.3 However, most dogs are completely normal apart from the tremors.
Causes of Shaker Syndrome in Dogs
The cause of shaker syndrome is mostly unknown. The tremors occur from the inflammation of the part of the brain called the cerebellum which is usually responsible for regulating muscular movement.1 However, the reason for this inflammation is often seemingly random and no real cause has been found thus far. The association with this disease and white coats is also yet to be understood.
However, the causes of the tremors themselves could be from a number of reasons. They could occur due to high stress situations, high levels of excitement, or situations that require a large amount of handling the dog.3
Diagnosis of Shaker Syndrome in Dogs
This neurological disease is diagnosed by veterinarians by examining a number of different factors, including the dog’s age, history of illness, and symptoms.3 Then, the cerebrospinal fluid may be collected for analysis but all other tests including blood tests, physical examinations and x-rays have proven unhelpful in diagnosing this disease, although your vet may run this tests in order to exclude other diseases.3
Therefore, in order for your vet to accurately diagnose your pup, you should ensure that you have a long, thorough history of their medical records kept up to date at all times. You should also stay on top of their weight, height, and disposition, monitoring them for any changes in behavior or habits.
Maltese and West Highland White Terriers are the most commonly affected breeds, but others can include the Bichon Frise, Poodle, Beagle, and Yorkshire Terrier.4
Treatment and Prevention of Shaker Syndrome in Dogs
Again, the severity of the tremors depends on how the dog is affected and therefore treated. If the tremors are causing your dog severe distress, affecting any other ailments it has or making your dog feel unwell, then your furry little friend may be hospitalized until they are feeling more themselves again.1
Most of the time, your veterinarian will prescribe your dog corticosteroids to help reduce inflammation and ease pain.1 Other treatments also include benzodiazepine drugs like diazepam or alprazolam.4 For many dogs, this eases all symptoms and the dog can recover in about a week.1
However, some dogs never recover and experience tremors for the rest of their lives and so will have to stay on a life-long low dose of steroids in order to stay symptom free.4 The steroid dosage will gradually be reduced over the course of a few months and can then be reinstated if symptoms continue to reoccur.1
The main form of prevention for this disease lies with the breeder. Dogs with this syndrome or first relatives of affected dogs should not be bred.4
In terms of management, your veterinarian may want to schedule weekly visits while your pup is in the height of the syndrome just to ensure that they are taking well to the medicine and that their condition is improving.1
Is shaker syndrome painful for dogs?
As this is a neurological condition, shaker syndrome does not tend to be painful for dogs. Although they may experience some discomfort during an episode of constant tremors, for the most part the dog is unaffected and can live happily.
However, depending on the severity of the tremors, sometimes shaker syndrome can cause mobility issues in dogs. If you notice any changes in the way your dog is walking or you feel like they are also experiencing some pain, make sure you contact your veterinarian so they can give them a thorough check up.
What does shaker syndrome in dogs look like?
The key symptom is tremors. However, in more severe cases dogs can develop wobbly, uncoordinated gait and head tilts.
What age does shaker syndrome start?
This syndrome is more common in young dogs with symptoms commonly showing between five months to three years.
Although the symptomatic tremors of shaker syndrome may look alarming, the neurological disease itself is often easier to treat than pet parents may expect. Although each dog can experience the syndrome to different degrees, the treatment is often successful and symptoms can be reduced to ensure that your pup lives a long happy life. After all, what more do we want for our little fur babies!If you have a pooch suffering from shaker syndrome, or if you just simply want to learn more about the syndrome, feel free to talk with one of our licensed veterinarians today. On hand to answer any questions, queries or give any advice you like, our online, telemedicine services are an easily accessible way to get personalized care for your dog. They can even create a customized plan based on your dog's medical history, nutritional needs and more!
“Shaker Syndrome in Dogs” PetMD, 20 Mar 2010 https://www.petmd.com/dog/conditions/neurological/c_dg_shaker_syndrome.
Yamaya et al. “A case of Shaker Dog Disease in a Miniature Dachshund.” J Vet Med Sci 66: 1159-1160, 2004.
Buracker, Lindsay. “White Shaker Disease Syndrome” Westie Foundation https://westiefoundation.org/files/galleries/white-shaker-ebook.pdf.
Khuly, Patty. “Shaker Syndrome” embrace Pet Insurance https://www.embracepetinsurance.com/health/shaker-syndrome.