Idiopathic Canine Shaker Syndrome

                                   Idiopathic Canine Shaker Syndrome

Idiopathic Canine Shaker Syndrome (ICSS) is a condition involving generalized head and body tremors in dogs. Idiopathic means that the exact cause is unknown, and this disease disproportionately affects small white dogs such as West Highland White Terriers. The cerebellum, which is the part of the brain that controls coordination, and the regulation of voluntary muscular movement becomes inflamed, this is called cerebellitis. It is sometimes known as Idiopathic Cerebellitis. It is a disease of young to middle aged dogs and both sexes are equally affected.

Some people refer to this condition as little white shaker syndrome because it is commonly seen is small white dog breeds such as the West Highland White Terrier, Maltese, and Poodle. However, it can affect any colour, breed, and size of dog.

Clinical signs.

Affected dogs typically develop rhythmic, repetitive, and involuntary muscle movements, which look like 'shaking'. Dogs may have a head tremor, or their entire body may shake uncontrollably. Clinical signs can vary in severity from very mild to severe where the dog cannot eat or walk. If you have ever had a panic attack and started to shake then you will know how debilitating this is for the poor dog.

Excitement and exercise can make the tremors worse, but they tend to improve when the dog is resting or sleeping. Aside from the tremors most dogs are otherwise normal but in rare cases they may have trouble with their vision or nystagmus which is where the eyeballs move from side to side.


The exact cause is unknown, but it may be an autoimmune disease where the body’s immune system is over stimulated and attacks a part of the body, in this case the cerebellum.


Your Veterinary Surgeon will take a thorough clinical history and perform a clinical examination of your dog. There is no specific test for ICSS so your Veterinary Surgeon will need to rule out other causes such as anxiety/fear, seizures, and hypothermia. Standard tests include urine analysis, full blood haematology, biochemistry, and electrolytes to rule out other causes of neurological disease such liver or kidney disease. A sample of cerebrospinal fluid, which is the fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal can be taken for analysis. This is done under a general anaesthetic. An MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan can also be performed to visualise the brain, but this is expensive.

If these tests are normal, then a diagnosis of ICSS can be made because the diagnosis is through the exclusion of other causes. If money is a problem and you cannot afford these tests, then your Veterinary Surgeon can discuss a trial treatment plan with you.



If your dog is extremely ill and distressed your dog will be hospitalized for treatment. The aim of therapy is to reduce the inflammatory response in the body and corticosteroids such as prednisolone are usually used for this. The dose is gradually reduced over a few months and then the dog can be weaned off them. Most dogs recover in one to two weeks but in rare cases dogs never entirely recover and need long term low dose prednisolone therapy.

In cases that relapse steroid treatment can be started again or if the dog is on a low dose, then a higher dose can be used. The problem with steroids is that they can have side effects such as increased drinking, urinating and appetite. They can also cause Iatrogenic Cushing’s disease. Therefore, for long term therapy you may want to try natural anti-inflammatories such as Omega 3 fatty acids, Boswellia serrata or Turmeric.

Omega 3

Omega 3 fatty acids are important to your pet's health in ways you'd never expect because they are potent natural anti-inflammatories. Elevated levels of Omega 3 fatty acids Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) play a key role in the healthy functioning of the brain, heart, joints, skin, eyes, immune system and coat. DHA supplementation supports healthy brain function in dogs. Use our Holistic Doggie Omega. 

Today's pet foods tend to be missing these important omega-3 fatty acids. To make matters worse, manufacturers tend to not supplement commercial pet foods with the Omega-3s your pet can use. Even if they do, the heat from the canning or kibbling process typically destroys their health benefits. Not only are Omega-3s sensitive to heat, but they also become rancid when exposed to oxygen for extended periods.

My advice for an Omega 3 supplement is that it contains elevated levels of EPA, 540 mg and DHA, 360mg, the importance of high doses of EPA/DHA is becoming increasingly understood in this sector. A report by John E. Bauer published in the Journal of American Veterinary Medical Association on Dec 1, 2011, investigated the evidence available for the use of EPA/DHA and points to the fact that high doses of EPA/DHA are required. The Omega 3 supplement must contain an antioxidant such as Vitamin E to prevent the fatty acids from oxidising and it should come from krill or small fish such anchovy, sardines or pollock which contain fewer heavy metals. Vegetable-derived oils, including olive oil, do not contain EPA and DHA, but the less bioavailable, inactive precursor form, Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) which must first be converted to EPA and DHA by special enzymes.

Boswellia serrata is also known as Frankincense and is a natural anti-inflammatory that is used in dog and cat joint supplements. Turmeric is also a natural anti-inflammatory.

Dr Paul Boland BVSc MRCVS

JP Holistic Nutrition

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