The sweet, little Maltese is prone to a condition called white dog shaker syndrome. The name derives from the condition's occurrence in white-coated dogs such as the Maltese and the West Highland white terrier. Take your puppy to your veterinarian if she starts trembling, as he can help her.
Dogs of any color may show this condition. It is commonly called white dog shaker syndrome because veterinarians used to see it most frequently in white dogs such as Maltese, West Highland terriers and poodles. It is still seen in Maltese and Westies more often than in other breeds. Vets formerly thought the condition might be specifically linked to the white coat, but they have more recently concluded it is not. Vets still don't know much about the condition. The general theory is that it may be caused by inflamed or infected brain tissue, or by an autoimmune reaction that affects neurotransmitters.
A Maltese is most likely to be young when shaker syndrome develops; vets suggest it may appear between 6 months and 1 year of age. Shaker syndrome usually develops rapidly, over one to three days. Your pup may at first show signs of a mild tremor all over her body, which then develops into a severe tremor that prevents her from walking. Often, the tremors worsen when the dog tries to accomplish something, such as eating or walking. This is called an intention tremor. You'll probably notice that the tremor subsides once the dog relaxes and stops trying to do something.
Rapid eye movements are another symptom of the condition. It's good to know that your Maltese isn't in any pain when she gets these tremors, but you should get her to your vet for treatment.
Your vet will need to rule out other conditions that might cause tremors before he can say for sure that your dog has shaker syndrome. No test exists for this specific condition, so he'll assess your dog to rule out epilepsy, poisoning or a nervous system infection. He will probably need to order several tests before he can arrive at a diagnosis, including a blood test, a spinal tap and an electrocardiogram.
Your Maltese may recover without any treatment. However, your vet may prescribe a sedative to calm the dog, which in turn makes the tremors milder. He may also prescribe a steroid. Treatment usually lasts for about 12 weeks. While she is recovering there are steps you can take to help her: Don't let her get stressed or over-excited; keep her water and food in a place she can easily reach, and keep her away from stairs and places where she could easily have a fall.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.
Based in London, Eleanor McKenzie has been writing lifestyle-related books and articles since 1998. Her articles have appeared in the "Palm Beach Times" and she is the author of numerous books published by Hamlyn U.K., including "Healing Reiki" and "Pilates System." She holds a Master of Arts in informational studies from London University.