White Shaker Syndrome is a condition that’s known scientifically as idiopathic cerebellitis; it’s a disorder that causes a dog’s entire body to shake uncontrollably. The word idiopathic means the condition or disease is of unknown origin, and may or may not arise spontaneously. The word cerebellitis lets you know the condition is located in the cerebellum, the part of the brain that regulates voluntary muscle movement (like shrugging your shoulders when you don’t know something or crooking your finger repeatedly when you want someone to come to you). The cerebellum is also responsible for common coordination. So cerebellitis means that an important part of your dog’s brain is inflamed.
The condition has taken on the nickname White Shaker Syndrome because, while pets of any color can be affected, it appears that dogs with a white coat are more likely to suffer from the condition. Medical literature has determined that white West Highland terriers and Maltese dogs seem to be predisposed.
If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that one of our dogs is tremendously shy and fearful. When we were first introduced to her, she shook so badly that her legs buckled and she fell to the floor.
One of the ways we are similar to dogs is the construction and function of our vertebral column, otherwise known as our backbone or spinal column. Human and canine backbones are made up of vertebrae that are separated by spongy disks which have a jelly-like core. These jelly-like disks cushion the individual vertebrae and make it possible for our backs to bend, twist and flex with ease. This cushioning also makes it possible for us to distribute and carry the load of our weight comfortably while we go about our days.
Intervertebral disc disease (IVDD) is a disorder where these jelly-like disks located between the vertebrae of the spinal column either bulge or burst (usually referred to as a herniated or slipped disk). When that happens, they push into the spinal cord space and press on the nerves that run through the spinal cord. This condition can cause back pain, nerve damage and even paralysis.
I learned more than I wanted to know about intervertebral disc disease in dogs a while back. At the time, I lived with my two lab mix dogs and a roommate that had a cocker spaniel. This cocker was a high-energy, yippy dog that demanded a lot of attention.
Who can resist the joyous tongue-lolling grin dogs get when they play in water? Not me… and I’m guessing that as a pet lover, not you either! Turns out this canine fun – in the form of dog water therapy – can also help the health of our pets.
Sounds like a great match, so let’s explore just what dog water therapy is, what you can expect and how it can help with pet rehabilitation.
Well, it’s sort of like taking a bath. Dog water therapy – also known as canine hydrotherapy – is most commonly performed in a small heated pool. A dog’s muscles are similar to ours, in that they can benefit from the warmth of heated water. Most hydrotherapy pools are also treated with a chemical such as chlorine.
Most therapy center pools have either a ramp for dogs to get in and out of the pool, a hoist to lift your dog out, or both. If your dog has difficulty walking, be sure to ask about this at centers you are checking out.
Some pools also have jets to spray underwater, which is great for building strength. Also something to ask about, if it meets your dog’s medical needs. Always be sure to consult with your veterinarian before starting any type of therapy for your dog and to get your vet’s recommendations on what types of pool features are best for your pet’s treatment.
Vestibular disease can strike dogs and cats suddenly. Your pet is fine one minute and the next, he’s struggling to stand and walk. One of my older cats developed vestibular disease years ago. At the time, I had no idea what it was. Understanding vestibular disease is important because the symptoms mirror those of a stroke as well as other medical conditions, and it can be misdiagnosed.
My cat, Patches, was sitting upright when she suddenly fell over on her side and couldn’t get up. Her eyes were moving rapidly back and forth and her head was shaking. It was a scary moment and I was convinced she’d just had a stroke. I called my vet and he decided she could wait until the office was open the next morning. By then she seemed better and had regained her balance. Come to find out, it was idiopathic vestibular disease and not a stroke as I had feared.
The vestibular system is how animals, including us, know which way is up or down, if we’re spinning around, standing, moving, sitting or lying down. In general, it’s responsible for maintaining our sense of balance and controls head and eye movements. Without getting too technical, the vestibular system is made up of nerves in the brain that continue into the inner ear. The vestibular apparatus is located next to the cochlea that’s found deep in the inner ear, and another one is located in the medulla (the lower area of the brain) which is found at the top of the spinal cord.
We’ve all laughed over the old excuse “the dog ate my homework,” but even a phrase as innocent as that might not be funny to someone whose dog has compulsive pica.
Pica is characterized by a desire to consume substances that are non-nutritive, and it can affect not only dogs but also cats, as Julia covered in her article Does Your Cat Eat Strange Things?In fact, people can suffer from pica, too.
The first dog I had as an adult—a rescued black lab—had pica and I didn’t know it. When she was 10 years old she got very sick. My regular vet and an emergency vet had no idea what was wrong and, surprisingly, multiple x-rays revealed nothing. I lived in a college town with a well-respected veterinary school, so my vet took my dog to the school for examination. After more fluid-bags and pills than I could count, with my sweet baby barely hanging on, my vet said the only thing he could do was exploratory surgery.
I still credit that vet with saving Sadie’s life. Apparently she had an extreme case of pica. He had a quart-sized bag full of treasures that he found in my dog’s intestinal tract, including seashells, twist ties, rocks and the finger of a garden glove. He said her system had probably done a good job of passing these things in the past, but what got her in trouble this time was a pinecone with a piece of twine wrapped around it. The piece of twine was long and prohibited the pinecone from passing through.
While a big backyard can be wonderful for excising our dogs, a lot of pet owners just don’t have that luxury. That’s something I learned when we downsized from two lots of running space to a teeny tiny yard.
Luckily, I was able to find several solutions that worked for us, as well as some that would also work for any pet owner who has more pent-up dog energy than grass square footage.
1. Leash Up and Head Out
It might be an obvious solution, but taking your dog to a place where they can exercise certainly solves the problem. If you don’t have access to a dog park or are unable to walk your dog for long distances, then consider a friend’s yard. We make use of a neighbor’s fenced-in backyard on occasion, so my Wuppy can get in some of the free running he’s used to.
2. Hire Help
Sometimes time is an added problem, along with little yard space. If you ever run into a situation where you just get too busy to take your dog out to walk or play, then consider hiring a dog walker or taking them to a doggie daycare. That way, your dog gets all the exercise they need and deserve, and you don’t have to feel guilty about being so busy. Plus, you get to spend your spare time snuggling with your pet!
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