Q. My dog gets these shakes; his muscles contract and he is not able to stand. He shakes like he has Parkinson’s. It has happened twice now in the last four weeks, and about five or six times in the last year. The last two times it happened it was in the middle of the night. He sleeps on the bed and his shaking wakes me up. He is a small dog — 8 pounds. I don’t know what to do. It seems it helps him if I hold him and talk to him and try to give him some water, by wetting his mouth. He licks his lips and then the shaking stops and he is fine. I can’t think of anything that triggers these shakes. Maybe you can suggest something?
A. By any chance is your dog white? You describe the classic signs of a neuromuscular disorder known as White Dog Shaker Syndrome.
White Dog Shaker Syndrome usually affects small dogs, usually white in color, with unexplained episodes of shaking. There is no known cause except a genetic component that is passed among these types of dogs. Diagnosis is made by “ruling out” other causes of tremors such as low blood sugar or imbalances in potassium, sodium and calcium. Simple blood tests, hopefully done near the time of the shaking episodes, will reveal any abnormalities if they are present.
It also is important to confirm that your dog is not having seizures. Typical seizures usually involve a loss of awareness, paddling and muscle tremors. Some seizures, known as focal seizures, can just look like trembling or shaking as you describe.
I would recommend videotaping these episodes and showing them to your veterinarian to help sort out if your dog is possibly having seizures, or may in fact have White Dog Shaker Syndrome.
Unfortunately there is no effective treatment for White Dog Shaker Syndrome, although steroids such as prednisone have been tried with varying success in some dogs.