Shaker Syndrome

Patty Khuly

Summary

Shaker syndrome is an inherited disorder of the nervous system in which mostly white, young, small breed dogs suffer tremors that are associated with voluntary activities. This uncommon disease also goes by the following names: "little white shakers" syndrome, idiopathic tremor syndrome, acquired tremor in young adult dogs and shaker dog syndrome.

Dogs typically acquire this disease between the ages of six months and three years. It comes on suddenly and usually worsens unless they receive treatment. Luckily, this disease is not painful or interfere with the affected dogs’ alertness or consciousness, as with seizures.

The cause of this disease––along with its mode of inheritance and association with white haircoats––is completely unknown. Veterinary researchers theorize that a dysfunction of the immune system or a previous infection may be to blame.

Symptoms and Identification

Dogs present with a sudden onset of mild to severe tremors that worsen with activity and stress. When completely at rest, dogs are relieved of their symptoms. They are typically diagnosed by noting their breed, age, color and characteristic symptoms.

Ruling out other causes of the tremors is highly advisable as well. A neurologist or internal medicine specialist may assist in this process by performing a cerebro-spinal fluid tap and/or by imaging the brain.

Affected Breeds

Maltese and West Highland White Terriers are the most commonly affected. The Bichon Frise, Poodle, Beagle and Yorkshire Terrier breeds have also been known to be affected.

Treatment

Treatment involves the use of benzodiazepine drugs (like diazepam or alprazolam) and/or corticosteroids (like prednisone). Complete recovery is common once treatment is initiated, though some dogs may require lifelong low-dose treatment to remain symptom-free.

In general, the prognosis for disease––once treated––is considered very good.

Veterinary Cost

The expenses associated with diagnosis and treatment tend to be relatively low (in the low hundreds or less). That is, unless owners elect for the gold standard diagnosis which involves specialist consultations and expensive tests (CSF taps, CT scans, MRIs, etc.).

Prevention

Removing affected dogs and their first degree relatives (parents and siblings) from the breeding pool is the mainstay of prevention.



References

Parker, A.J. 1995. "Little white shakers" syndrome: generalized, sporadic, acquired, idiopathic tremors in adult dogs. In J.D. Bonaguara and R.W. Kirk (eds) Kirk's Current Veterinary Therapy XII Small Animal Practice. pp. 1126-1127. W.B. Saunders Co., Toronto.

"Congenital and Inherited Anomalies of the Nervous System: Small Animals". The Merck Veterinary Manual. 2006. Retrieved 2007-02-04.

Canine Inherited Disorders Database