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Shaker Syndrome in Dogs - Idiopathic Cerebellitis

Cristina Pascual
By Cristina Pascual, Veterinaria. Updated: January 29, 2024
Shaker Syndrome in Dogs - Idiopathic Cerebellitis

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There are many different health issues which can result in tremors in a dog's body. Many of these are physical, often the result of trauma or age. Some are congenital, meaning they have a genetic predisposition toward certain symptoms. One cause which may dog guardians often overlook is a neurological reason for changes in mobility. This is due to the brain giving incorrect instructions to the rest of the body. Even knowing these general causes, it can be difficult to know why a dog shakes or has tremors, something we can see with shaker syndrome.

At AnimalWised, we find out everything we can about shaker syndrome in dogs, a condition scientifically known as idiopathic cerebellitis. Since knowing its cause is very difficult, we will focus mainly on its symptoms, diagnosis and treatment.

You may also be interested in: What is Horner's Syndrome in Dogs?

What is Shaker syndrome in dogs?

Shaker syndrome in dogs is also known as idiopathic steroid responsive shaker syndrome, generalized tremor syndrome (GTS) or idiopathic cerebellitis. The disease results in an inflammation of the cerebellum, a part of the brain which controls aspects of the nervous system in dogs. More specifically, it is responsible for the coordination of voluntary movements and muscle contractions.

Many guardians will wonder what is the cause of shaker syndrome in dogs? The term ‘idiopathic’ refers to a disease with an unknown cause. This doesn't mean there isn't an underlying cause of shaker syndrome, it means we don't yet know what it is. However, even if the aetiology of idiopathic cerebellitis cannot be clearly established, we know that it is a type of central nervous system disorder.

Shaker syndrome can affect both sexes equally, but it is most common in either young or middle-aged dogs. We also known that small dogs and those with white fur are the most commonly affected. For this reason, it is possible there is a genetic factor, but we do not yet know what this might be.

Symptoms of shaker syndrome in dogs

The reason for the common name of idiopathic cerebellitis is because its main symptom is shaking of the dog's body. This shaking presents as a vague an generalized tremor throughout the dog's body.

Unfortunately, there are challenges in diagnosing a dog wit this symptom as it is not pathognomonic. This means, it is not unique to this one particular disease. There are other syndromes, disorders and diseases which can cause a dog's whole body to shake. One particular aspect of shaker's syndrome which can help distinguish it from other diseases is the fact the generalized tremor does not stop easily and it occurs on a daily basic.

It is important to differentiate between a generalized tremor and other reasons for a dog shaking. Dogs can shake their body involuntarily due to a medical problem, but they can also do it purposefully. Our article on why dogs shake their body will helps to explain more.

Shaker syndrome diagnosis

If you think your dog may be suffering from this condition, you should go to the vet as soon as possible to verify the diagnosis. However, since, the symptoms are very similar to other conditions which cause the dog to have tremors or change their gait, diagnosis is not easy.

Diagnosing Shaker syndrome in dogs requires a number of tests to be thorough, including:

  • Full medical history
  • Current symptoms
  • Initial symptoms and their development
  • Blood test
  • Urine analysis
  • Electrolyte level analysis
  • CSF sample

Based on this comprehensive examination, the veterinarian must perform a differential diagnosis and rule out other conditions that could explain the symptoms. These can include physical problems such as hypothermia in dogs, but a psychological cause can be the case if the dog has acute anxiety. In these cases, the veterinarian will need to look at the context of the tremors.

Treating shaker syndrome in dogs

Sometimes, shaker syndrome be a serious health condition for the animal. In these cases a period of hospitalisation may be necessary until the dog stabilises various vital signs that could be affected. Drug treatment involves cortisones. These are potent anti-inflammatories which reduce the state of inflammation of the brain tissues. We should mention that corticosteroids act by suppressing the immune system, which results in multiple side effects.

After starting treatment, the dog may recover in about a week, but it can also develop into a chronic pathological state.

Remember that the veterinarian is the only person qualified to indicate a specific treatment. They can also show you how often subsequent controls should take place at the start of treatment and how to progressively reduce the administration of cortisone.

Shaker Syndrome in Dogs - Idiopathic Cerebellitis - Treating shaker syndrome in dogs

White dog shaker syndrome

Although shaker syndrome can affect many dogs, it is true that small white dogs are most affected. For this reason, if we adopt a small white dog breed or a cross with such a breed, we need to be particularly vigilant for tremors in their body. Breeds which are most affected by white dog shaker syndrome include:

  • Poodle
  • West Highland White Terrier
  • Maltese
  • Bichon Frise
  • Havanese
  • Bolognese

We should have regular checkups with our veterinarian regardless. However, we should take particular note with the above breeds.

This article is purely informative. AnimalWised does not have the authority to prescribe any veterinary treatment or create a diagnosis. We invite you to take your pet to the veterinarian if they are suffering from any condition or pain.

If you want to read similar articles to Shaker Syndrome in Dogs - Idiopathic Cerebellitis, we recommend you visit our Other health problems category.

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Shaker Syndrome in Dogs - Idiopathic Cerebellitis