Shaker Dog Syndrome-Causes, Symptoms & Treatments

The mysterious White Shaker Dog Syndrome is a full body condition that dog owners are unaware of until they observe it in their little white adult dog. It primarily affects white small breed adult dogs, even though it occasionally affects the Australian Silky Terriers, Miniature Pinschers, or Yorkshire Terriers of various colors.

Veterinarians and dog owners recognize it as little White Shaker’s Syndrome, idiopathic steroid responsive shaker syndrome, “little white shakers” syndrome or the Shaker Dog Syndrome. Affected breeds diagnosed the most are West Highland White Terriers, White Poodles, Bichons frise, Beagles, Maltese, and Westie-Spaniel hybrids.

shaker dog syndrome

Photograph by Nancy Houser. "White Shaker Dog Syndrome is thought to be associated with the central nervous system, an inflammation that affects the cerebellum of the brain."

Symptoms of White Shaker Dog Syndrome

What makes this condition exceptional is that the dogs lead a perfectly normal life and have very few problems. Then out of nowhere, the unmanageable shaking begins – dog owners should be aware that not all small white adult dogs have it. Once the symptoms begin, they will begin around one year of age. Alert dog owners recognize it anywhere from six months to three years of age.

When first appearing, the dog will develop full body tremors for several reasons: when the dog is handled too much, becomes stressed out, or becomes too excited. The tremors involve the entire body and head, a condition that is extremely disabling. Wild and random movements of the eyes begin with the dog’s shaking is in full mode. The head will tilt at times, with mild to moderate hypermetric behaviors showing.

Shoulders and legs are tender to touch, with the dog unable to hold weight on their legs after serious spasms occur. Many times the dog has rapid and severe shaking, with spasms developing from the neck to the hindquarters. Overall, this leaves the dog disabled and extremely confused. When the dog is shaking, it will be unable to eat. If the condition lasts for several days, the dog will become very ill due to lack of food and physical effects of the tremors.

However, so-called dog experts say the animal’s condition is not painful and its personality will be unaffected. Dog owners who experience their dog’s devastating condition strongly say otherwise.

Causes of the White Shaker Dog Syndrome

Many medical professionals believe the white shaker dog syndrome is affected by the dog’s immune system. Statistics show that approximately 25% of the dogs who develop the condition will retain the disorder for the remainder of their lives.

White Shaker Dog Syndrome is thought to be associated with the central nervous system, an inflammation that affects the cerebellum of the brain. Because it is very rare, veterinarians are unfamiliar with the condition. When first observing the symptoms, they will diagnose it as lead poisoning – two conditions with similar symptoms.

However, blood testing and case histories will rule out other similar situations, such as organophosphate poisoning from insecticides and hypocalcemia from giving birth to puppies. Many pet owners take their dog to an internal medicine specialist as a referral from their vet, especially if the family vet is unfamiliar with shaker dog syndrome.

Treatments for White Shaker Dog Syndrome

The treatment of choice for White Shaker Dog Syndrome is corticosteroids or benzodiazepines, prescribed to reverse the uncontrollable shaking within a couple of days. Some vets prescribe diazepam (Valium Rx) and prednisone to control the tremors. Some dogs will require extended treatment for life, even though many dogs will recover.

At the beginning, vets prescribe high doses of medicine over several weeks, while decreasing the dosage as the clinical signs show improvement. It is strongly advised that dogs with this condition not be bred.

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20 Responses:

  1. Melanie

    - 28th Jul, 17 03:07am

    My 19 month old Westie Maxie was diagnosed with a mild form of this at the vets today. I noticed him wobbling his head in a similar way to the Indian culture does this morning. He had 4 or 5 episodes in a space of 10 minutes that lasted 30 seconds or so. I took a video of him to show the vet and this was confirmed. Apparently other breeds have silimare “tremor” type common complaints, I am just relieved it is not a sign of epilepsy. The vet said it is quite normal and there is no need for meds but to monitor him and take him back if it gets worse or more frequent. My boy Maxie xx

    Reply to this comment

  2. John

    - 8th Mar, 17 01:03pm

    My westie sufferd shakers really bad about 8 years ago she was diagnosed and put on pedestorone she made a full recovery after a really bad time ,8 years later ive just given her a steroid again as the last couple of days ive seen a slight return.

    Reply to this comment

  3. Susan Yeo

    - 21st Dec, 16 04:12pm

    I have a nine year old Female Westie that began having seizures about 5 years ago. In the beginning they happened about every three or four months. Jazzy walks in circles, jerks her head to the right, and has shaking eyes. She has recently had seizures a week apart. We took her to an emergency vet who refused to give her any meds, but observed her over night. She takes Phenabarbital. I don’t understand why the vets won’t call her condition white shaker syndrome. After having a seizure last night our vet said to comfort her.
    We are very frustrated.

    Reply to this comment

  4. WayCoolDogs

    - 23rd Jul, 15 08:07pm

    NOTE: 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.

    Reply to this comment

  5. Steve

    - 20th Mar, 15 09:03am

    I had responded back on April 7, 2012. We still have that Westie. She’s been in to the Vet a couple of times since then. I write because of the picture at the top of this post. My Westie starts to licking its nose fairly rapidly before the onset of shaking symptoms. I found if I get her and pick her up and mutter sweet nothings to her, in other words, to try to calm her down that she will very often ride out the onset and not develop the other symptoms and avoid a trip to the vet. Since I went to the vet several times this does not always work.

    Reply to this comment

  6. Debbie

    - 24th Feb, 15 05:02pm

    At 11 it could be vestibulitis (inflammation in the vestibule of the inner ear) and will take several days on pred to make a difference, most fully recover.

    Reply to this comment

  7. melissa

    - 2nd Jun, 13 09:06am

    I’m writing to tell you about my Maltese ,bruiser his 11 and he’s had shaker dog for about as far as I know 3 years well he was extreme the other day walking and falling over ,bumping into things very lethargic , so the vet put him on prednisone , but I think it mite be to.late , he’s not getting better this time , he worse then when I took him in , he won’t eat , I’m forcing water on him and he’s licking on the fat paste …I just want people to know this syndromet could be fatal please take it very serious ..

    Reply to this comment

  8. Tracey

    - 21st Nov, 12 02:11am

    My Maletese shakes and tremors when we go for rides in the car. It takes her a while to calm down. Although articles claim the pet is not in pain, I am very concerned about her. I will be addressing this with the vet soon.

    Reply to this comment

  9. Laura

    - 11th Nov, 12 08:11am

    My Millie has had episodes so full body shaking. These episodes are infrequent but seem to be coming closer together. She is a terrier mivx and will be 2 in Jan. these episodes last 20-30 minutes. Could this be white shaker dog syndrome?

    Reply to this comment

    • WayCoolDogs

      - 11th Nov, 12 09:11am

      Laura….it may be. Due to the symptoms, I would take her to your vet right away, if for nothing else than the severity of the symptoms.


      Reply to this comment

  10. Sandy

    - 25th Sep, 12 07:09pm

    I have a maltipoo sweetheart. He started having what I thought was seizures. He has had 4 that we noticed over the last 4 months. He is now 2 1/2 yrs. old. These episodes last about 2 min. I’m planning on taking our dog to the vet next week. We also had a pure maltese that had seizures and my daughter has a dog that has seizures. Her’s is also a maltese.

    Reply to this comment

  11. arickakane

    - 15th Aug, 12 02:08am

    Well this really sucks ive had my yorki miami for 3months and she has had 3episodes of shaking but shes only 5months does this mean it was genetic for it to happen so young and it doesnt last for days a few hours what do I do when this happens?

    Reply to this comment

    • WayCoolDogs

      - 15th Aug, 12 05:08pm

      Have you taken her to a vet for verification of the disease?

      Reply to this comment

  12. Kristin

    - 27th Jul, 12 10:07am

    Thank you for this information! Here is another story that may help other dog owners:
    A year ago, our 3 year old dog (half Westie half Havanese) was having trouble with his balance and acted like he had pain in his back and back legs. We took him to the vet and they said he had a displaced vertebra and prescribed Prednisone and Rimadyl. This took away the symtoms, but 8 months later, it happened again. We again took him to the vet and they diagnosed it as a recurring back pain and prescribed the same treatment. Again, he returned to his normal self. Our dog (now 4 years) has been having tremors for the last week, and, since our vet told us shaking was a symptom of pain, we gave him Rimadyl, but as time went on, the shaking worsened and the pain medication didn’t seem to help at all. We took him back to the vet and they said he was seizing and kept him over night to sedate him and medicate him so he would calm down. This morning, our vet called and said he’d done some research and was diagnosing our dog with White Dog Shaker Syndrome. I got on the internet to research this condition, and am very glad I found your site!

    Reply to this comment

  13. Steve

    - 7th Apr, 12 05:04pm

    We have had Westies for 30 years and have never seen this. We have a 3 yr old Westie female. She started just circling to the left. Having worked in hospital for many years, it looked like a form of seizure. I responded here because the situation can be sometimes be fatal, not from the syndrome but from side effects. Fortunately I took her to the Vet ER at midnight 3-4 hours after the onset of symptoms. Her temperature was 107 and rising. The vet said she probably would have died from hyperthermia if we had waited until the morning. Searching the web for this syndrome, I did not see any reports or videos showing extreme cases like ours. It is 2 days later and she is back to normal. She is on predisone and valium. Again it was the over-heating that was life threatening, not the syndrome. Also we did not opt for the more extensive tests to rule out other conditions such as CSF taps, MRIs, or CAT scans. The estimated those costs to be $3000-5000. Fortunately my vet either was familiar with this syndrome or did some Web research.

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    • WayCoolDogs

      - 7th Apr, 12 08:04pm

      Thank you for sharing this, Steve. Timing is essential, and it cannot be stressed enough.

      Reply to this comment

    • Westiemom

      - 18th Apr, 16 09:04pm

      My 13 yr old Westie just diagnosed also had a high fever and we were at the emergency vet as well late last Saturday. I felt as though you were describing my Sammie! I agree nowhere has anything been said about high body temp- she’s been just miserable. She’s feeling better but a little wobbly with her hind legs. Also note that my baby is older than a “young adult.” This came out of nowhere- just horrible. Her trembling stopped as soon as prednisone was given. Her fever subsided however she feels warm again tonight-not her happy self and her tail is between her legs again…

      Reply to this comment

      • WayCoolDogs

        - 2nd May, 16 08:05pm

        Dear Westiemom….I noticed your little westie was doing much better. Is she still doing better?


        Reply to this comment

  14. jess

    - 11th Aug, 11 04:08am

    My white silky x was diognised with white shaking dog today he is three years old nearly to thr day. i found this site very helpful. thanks

    Reply to this comment

    • WayCoolDogs

      - 11th Aug, 11 06:08am

      Jessica, I am glad you found the article helpful. Thank you very much for the compliment. 🙂


      Reply to this comment

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