Watching your Maltese dog shake without knowing what to do to relieve your pooch's troubles is, to say the least, disconcerting. Learning about the disorder known as "white shaker dog syndrome" that affects some Maltese canines with whole-body tremors is a first step toward bringing comfort to your dog and yourself.
Veterinary researchers are still attempting to narrow the specifics of this disorder that stems from the dog's central nervous system. What is known is that white shaker dog syndrome is linked to an inflammation of the cerebellum, the section of the brain dictating the coordination of voluntary muscle movement. What pathological agent causes the inflammation is yet unidentified; however, researchers have identified the presence of increased numbers of white blood cells and elevated protein levels in the spinal fluids of diagnosed dogs. This leads them to believe a deficiency in the autoimmune system leaves the dog's central nervous system vulnerable to the disorder.
There is little mild about the symptoms associated with this shaking disorder that most often afflicts Maltese dogs between 6 months and 2 years of age. It presents itself quickly and forcefully without warning: A series of tremors overtakes the dog's ability to control its bodily functions and movements. Rapid eye movement is common. The shaking of the dog can be so severe that it appears the animal is shivering from hypothermia.
Veterinarians can test blood and spinal fluid samples seeking out biological indicators of the disorder. However, most often to avoid potentially unnecessary expense, the excessive shaking and tremors impacting the dog provide enough clinical evidence of the disorder's presence. For dog owners wanting conclusive documentation that the tremors are linked to an inflammation of the cerebellum, veterinarians can retrieve a sample of spinal fluid and examine it under a microscope to identify high levels of white blood cells or protein molecules typically associated with white shaker dog syndrome.
Treatment and Management
Many dogs afflicted with these tremors are able to recover and live relatively free from the shaking spells through the use of corticosteroids that flood the bloodstream and central nervous system with a steady medicinal combatant against an array of biological pathogens. A low dosage is often first recommended; gradual increases are made as warranted. The use of diazepam -- better known in human circles as Valium -- often proves effective in extreme cases. Once a dog is diagnosed, his human companion is advised to keep a watchful eye for recurring symptoms.
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.
Amy M. Armstrong is a former community news journalist with more than 15 years of experience writing features and covering school districts. She has received more than 40 awards for excellence in journalism and photography. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in communications from Washington State University. Armstrong grew up on a dairy farm in western Washington and wrote agricultural news while in college.