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What is White Shaker Syndrome?

Tremors are involuntary and repetitive contractions of muscles. The tremors seen in white shaker syndrome can range from mild shivering to severe full body tremors that don’t seem to cause any pain. The syndrome generally develops suddenly in young, small to medium dogs between 6 months to 5 years of age. Often, the tremors are mistaken for being cold or nervous, but they can be a sign of a more serious nervous system problem. As such, if your dog is experiencing tremors, it is best to seek a veterinary opinion as soon as possible. White shaker syndrome is often harmless, but in rare cases, seizures can occur.

White shaker syndrome is a condition of generalized tremors that are present without any infectious or other known cause. It gets its name from the small white dogs it commonly affects, such as Terriers and Maltese, though it has been seen to affect other non-white and larger breeds. It is also called little white shakers syndrome or generalized tremor syndrome.

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Symptoms of White Shaker Syndrome in Dogs

  • Head and body muscle tremors
  • Shivering
  • Incoordination
  • Uncontrolled rapid eye movements 
  • Hypermetria, or when movement overreaches the intended goal
  • Head tilt
  • High-stepping gait
  • Difficulty walking
  • Loss of menace response 
  • Paralysis 
  • Seizures

Causes of White Shaker Syndrome in Dogs

The true cause of white shaker syndrome is unknown, but there are some ideas as to why it can occur. It has been theorized to be caused by:

  • Inflammation of the cerebellum, which regulates voluntary muscle movements
  • Inflammation of the spinal cord and the covering of the brain 
  • Nonsuppurative encephalomyelitis
  • Neurotransmitter deficiency mediated by the immune system that affects the levels of melanin, dopamine and norepinephrine
  • Congenital condition

White shaker syndrome seems to affects certain breeds more frequently, so there may be a genetic component to this condition. Breeds commonly affected have included:

  • Maltese 
  • West Highland White Terrier
  • Bichon Frise
  • Poodle
  • Samoyed 
  • Dachshund
  • Boston Terrier
  • Lhasa Apso

Diagnosis of White Shaker Syndrome in Dogs

Tremors can be the result of a myriad of causes, such as congenital diseases, metabolic conditions, various intoxications, bacteria and viruses, or from a mycotoxin. Your veterinarian will perform several exams and tests to determine the cause of your dog’s tremors. A diagnosis of white shaker syndrome is often based on ruling out all other causes through diagnostic testing. Relay to your veterinarian a complete history of the symptoms, as well as any behavioral changes or possible exposures to toxins or infectious agents. Your veterinarian will then conduct a physical, orthopedic, and neurological exam. 

Tests can include a urinalysis, complete blood counts and a biochemistry analysis to assess metabolic functions, look for infectious agents, and reveal inflammation. Electromyography (EMG) uses electrical signals to assess muscle and nerve health. Muscle or nerve biopsies may also be taken and analyzed. An MRI or CT scan may be used to look at the state of the brain. Finally, cerebrospinal fluid is often collected through a spinal tap, then analyzed to determine the functionality of the nervous system, as well as to look for inflammation and infectious disease. As other possible causes are ruled out, a diagnosis of white shaker syndrome can be given when no other cause can be determined.

Treatment of White Shaker Syndrome in Dogs

Treatment is primarily through medication. Many dogs can have their tremors completely disappear with the administration of a combination of immunosuppressive corticosteroids, which can suppress inflammation, and benzodiazepines, a class of drugs that helps anxiety by reducing nerve activity. These are generally started at high doses that are tapered to a lower dose or discontinued over time.

Tremors have been known to cease within a few days to two weeks of treatment, but the drugs are given for several months to prevent them from recurring. If treatment is discontinued and the tremors return, your dog may need continued therapy. While for many animals, this treatment is quite effective, some dogs may need a continued low dose drug regiment throughout their lives. 

Treatment is most often given at home, but severe cases may require hospitalization. Additional medications, such as barbiturates or anticonvulsants, may be given to help eliminate the tremors. 

Recovery of White Shaker Syndrome in Dogs

Recovery is generally good for most dogs affected by this syndrome. You will be given medications to administer to your dog at home, and will need to bring your dog in to your veterinarian every few weeks during treatment to monitor his progress, change dosage levels, and check for any side effects from the medications. On average, treatment can help tremors to cease within days, and your dog will be able to discontinue treatments after several months. A relapse can occur, in which case treatment is continued, and may be needed throughout your dog’s life to control the tremors. There is not enough known about the hereditary implications of white shaker syndrome, but breeding affected dogs is still discouraged.

White Shaker Syndrome Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Skye
Cavoodle
6 Months
Serious condition
0 found helpful
Serious condition

Has Symptoms

Shaking

Medication Used

Delta cotef

Does white shakers syndrome cause puppy not to eat or drink? My puppy is being treated for white shakers and has not eaten or drunk anything for over 48hrs and if she does she throws up.

Callum Turner
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
1805 Recommendations
Some medications used to treat white shaker syndrome may cause a loss of appetite, but you should try to encourage drinking and eating; try to syringe water into the mouth to see if Skye will swallow any and try to encourage eating by giving some wet food which has been slightly warmed. If there is no success in getting her to drink or eat visit your Veterinarian again. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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Mr windle
Bullmastiff and staffy
7 Years
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Head Shaking
Weight Loss
Straining To Defecate
Shaking
Loss of Appetite

His head just started shaking/spasming today lasting a minute or so at a time he is fully function while this is happening he has resently lost weight and shivers/shakes his breathing suggest pain, this is not all the time tho

Callum Turner
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
1805 Recommendations

Idiopathic head tremors may occur in any bull breed of dog; idiopathic meaning we don’t know the cause. Other causes can be due to neck muscle pain, vestibular disorders or a type of seizure; I would recommend to visit your Veterinarian to rule out any serious causes. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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