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White Shaker Syndrome

By: PetPlace Veterinarians

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White shaker syndrome is a strange condition that is not fully understood. It seems to affect primarily small breed dogs with white hair coats, thus the name of the syndrome. Affected dogs suddenly develop continuous shaking or tremors, which can be mild or severe enough to cause difficulty standing or walking. The dog is alert and responsive, although he has constant tremors. There are no other neurologic problems or health concerns. The tremors seem to worsen with stress, handling or excitement and lessen or resolve when the dog is relaxed or sleeping.

Dogs affected with white shaker syndrome are young adult dogs between the ages of 1-6 years. White coated dog breeds such as the Maltese, West Highland white terrier, poodles and bichon, are most often affected.

The cause of white shaker syndrome is unknown. Some theories involve infection or inflammation of the brain. Other theories involve diseases of the immune system. So far, the exact cause has not been determined. Also, the link between shaking/tremors and white dogs is unknown.

There are other diseases that manifest as tremors and these must be ruled out before appropriate treatment can be administered.

  • Exposure to toxic substances, especially moldy food, can result in tremors.

  • Various inflammatory or infectious diseases of the nervous system can also show tremors.

  • Epileptic patients can also have tremors associated with seizure activity.

    Diagnosis

    White shaker disease is not fully understood. For this reason, there is no specific test that can confirm white shaker syndrome. A variety of baseline tests are performed. Those with normal test results and typical signs are diagnosed with white shaker syndrome. This is called diagnosis by exclusion. Other diseases have been excluded from the list of possible causes for the tremors. All that is left is white shaker syndrome.

    Some tests your veterinarian may recommend include:

  • Complete blood count as well as a biochemical profile are typically performed on dogs with tremors. In white shaker syndrome, these test results are typically normal.

  • Electroencephalograph (brain waves) are usually normal in white shaker syndrome.

  • Spinal taps may reveal some inflammatory cells but most often the spinal fluid is normal.

  • Computerized tomography (CT scan) is normal for white shaker syndrome.

    Treatment

    The primary treatment for white shaker syndrome is glucocorticoids (steroids), most commonly prednisone. In severe cases, diazepam (Valium®) may also be prescribed.

    Prednisone is initially given twice a day for 4 weeks and then gradually tapered off over the next 8 weeks. This has been found to be the most effective treatment for white shaker syndrome.

    Some dogs recover spontaneously (without treatment) after several weeks. The prognosis for recovery is good. Unfortunately, since the cause is unknown, relapses may occur.

    Home Care and Prevention

    After being diagnosed with white shaker syndrome, your dog may need a little help until he recovers. Make sure the food and water bowls are easily accessible with wide openings. This will allow the dog to eat and drink, even if he has tremors.

    Keep your dog as calm as possible. The tremors seem to worsen in times of stress or excitement. Be aware that your dog may not be able to go for long walk or play for extended periods of time until the tremors subside. Avoid stairs or areas that may result in injury to your dog.

    Since the cause of white shaker syndrome is not known, there is no way to prevent it.

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