Call us: 555-555-5555

White Dog Shaker Syndrome

Maltese White Dog Shaker Syndrome 


White dog shaker syndrome, also called idiopathic cerebellitis and sometimes shortened to shaker syndrome was named so due to being found almost exclusively with breeds that have solid white coats including the Maltese. This is starting to be seen in dogs with coats other than white; however, it is still primarily seen with Maltese, Bichons, white Poodles, and West Highland White Terriers. 

This section will cover:
  • What this is
  • Causes
  • Symptoms
  • Treatment

What This Is

With white dog shaker syndrome, the cerebellum, which is part of the brain, becomes inflamed.

The cerebellum normally works by receiving information from sensory systems (vision, hearing, touch, taste, and smell), the spinal cord, and other parts of the brain, and then regulates proper motor movements (any action that involves using the muscles). 

Part of the motor movements are such things as posture, balance, and coordination, which all work together to create smooth movements. 

The inflammation that occurs with this disease causes a malfunction of these processes.


Further research needs to be done.  At this current time, the underlying cause of white dog shaker syndrome is unknown. 

However, because the Maltese and other small white breeds are prone to this, it is theorized that melanin plays a role. One thought is that this is an immune system reaction to cells that produce tyrosine, which play a role in producing melanin, in addition to dopamine and norepinephrine. However, if this is true, most also assume that other mechanisms must also be in play. 

Size seems to play a role as well; most dogs with shaker syndrome are under 33 lbs. 

Age of Onset

This typically develops in young dogs; with the Maltese breed, onset of white shaker dog syndrome is most often seen between the ages of 5 months to 3 years old. 

Signs and Symptoms

In short, this involves body shaking and trembling. While the exact duration of tremors can vary from dog to dog, most Maltese will have one or more of the following symptoms:
  • The tremors are rhythm and repetitive
  • These may occur on any body parts, including just the head bobbing, or this may be full body shaking
  • Shaking can vary from very mild to very severe. In severe cases a Maltese will having trouble walking.
  • Once tremors start, they may worsen over the course of 3 days. From day 4 and onward, the tremors may then remain with the same intensity until treated.
There may also be:
  • Uncontrolled eye movements - These are often rapid multi-directional movements
  • Head tilting
  • Moments before a tremor begins, some dogs may stop eating and/or appear to be disconnected
There may be situational changes:
  • Tremors may worsen with exercise, being handled, traveling, stress, or excitement
  • Tremors may lessen when a Maltese is resting and may they may temporarily resolve when sleeping


If you suspect that your Maltese may have white shaker syndrome, you should bring him to the veterinarian right away. It is recommended to video your Maltese during an episode(s), as this can help the vet understand what is happening. 

There is not a diagnostic test for white dog shaker syndrome. For this reason, it is diagnosed by noting how a dog presents, ruling out all other possible causes, and seeing how a dog responds to treatment. 

Testing to rule out other issues will include:
  • Physical, neurological and orthopedic exams
  • CBC (complete blood count) and chemistry panel
  • EMG (if muscle disorders are suspected)
Conditions and issues that will be ruled out include: Stress, anxiety, hypoglycemia, idiopathic head tremors, epilepsy, toxic poisoning, low body temperature (hypothermia), reaction to medications, and viral infection including distemper.


Treatment for white dog shaker syndrome includes:


These generally work very well and very fast, since white shaker is due to inflammation of the cerebellum and corticosteroids are very effective at reducing this. 

A Maltese will typically be started on a high dose, and then this will be decreased over time. In many cases there will be marked improvement in as little as 3 days. However, if the medication is not continued the symptoms may return just as quickly. 

Many Maltese will need to remain on low doses of corticosteroids indefinitely. There can be some adverse effects including gastrointestinal upset (nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and/or ulcers). Your Maltese should be closely monitored, so that tremors can be controlled on the lowest dose possible.

Other medications that may be given include: Diazepam (Valium), muscle relaxants, or anticonvulsants.
adult Maltese dog with topknot
Top guidelines to take great care of your Maltese puppy or dog
Maltese puppy white coat
Details on all feeding guidelines for both puppies and adults
two Maltese dogs
Helpful advice to keep your Maltese looking beauiful
Spotlight Article
Exactly what to avoid and why, our top picks for a super boost of nutrition and a yummy reward, and foods you can add to meals at home. 
Are You a Member Yet?
Become a free PetMaltese Member - This will allow you to receive a friendly alert when new pages of Maltese information are added to the site. You will also be able to submit photos of your Maltese to be placed on this site, and will be able to suggest a topic for us to write about. 
Share by: