Why Does My Maltese Shake, Shiver & Tremble?

Maltese are known for being loyal, energetic, and friendly additions to the family. Not only are they adorable, but they make great companions for children, the elderly, and anyone in between!

Since our dogs become so close to us, it can be very concerning when we notice that they are suddenly shaking, shivering, or trembling, especially when we are unsure of what to do. This happens to be a common occurrence for the Maltese Breed.

Shaking, shivering, and trembling can occur in your Maltese for several reasons, some being very common, maybe they are just cold? And others being more troublesome and severe such as stress/anxiety, illness, or other medical conditions.

If you are unsure why your Maltese is shaking, shivering, or trembling, keep reading to find out more!

Shaking Vs. Seizures

It is important to realize the difference between whether your Maltese is shaking or experiencing a more serious problem like a seizure.

A lot of Maltese owners are concerned when they notice their Maltese beginning to shake suddenly. They automatically assume that their dog is experiencing a seizure; however, this is not always the case.

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If your Maltese is having a seizure, they will not be aware of their surroundings and will lose mobility in their bodies. This is very different from shivers or shakes because your Maltese will still be aware of what is going on around them, as well as still being able to move their bodies.

Maltese are more prone to having seizures because of their low body weight and small muscle mass. The risk of low blood sugar levels is also influenced by their weight/mass and very common within the Maltese breed. Hypoglycemic seizures are caused by these low blood sugar levels. Here are some other reasons why your Maltese may be having seizures:

  • Liver disease
  • Poor circulation
  • Mineral deficiency
  • Brain tumors
  • Head injury
  • Heartworm
  • Kidney disease
  • Anemia
  • Stroke

If you think that your dog is having seizures and not common shakes, it is important to get them to a vet right away.

Why Is My Maltese Shaking?

Small dogs are often known for shivering or shaking; although, multiple other breeds are larger and also show this trait. The Maltese breed is known for its adorable tiny size and shivering to go along with it.

Maltese can shake and shiver for multiple reasons. Oftentimes they shake because they are simply cold; although, they may also be stressed, scared, or in pain.

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You may notice along with shaking and shivering that your Maltese is lip-licking more than usual or yawning, this is oftentimes a sign that they are stressed. There are several other ways to tell if your Maltese is stressed such as being able to see the whites of their eyes, if they are whining, or if they are cowering/finding a place to go and hide.

Even though it is not fun to see our pups shaking, it is oftentimes a normal reaction that occurs with Maltese; here are some other less concerning reasons your Maltese may be shaking and shivering:

  • Excitement (normally stops once your pup has calmed down.)
  • Upset stomach (If this becomes a common occurrence, it is best to have your pup taken to the vet!)
  • Someone they aren’t familiar with is nearby (They will normally stop shaking soon after they are comfortable with the new person.)
  • Old age (Dogs’ muscles begin to weaken as they age, shaking is a common side effect.)
  • Joint pain or arthritis (If this causes them severe pain or limping, a vet will normally provide them medication or other methods to provide them comfort.)

Sometimes Maltese stomachs become upset because they have eaten something they shouldn’t; check out these articles for information about what your pup should and shouldn’t be eating:

Why Does My Maltese Eat Everything (Grass, Poop, Sticks, Dirt)?

Complete List of Fruit Maltese Can & Can’t Eat!

Tip: If your Maltese is shivering from the cold, it may be helpful to purchase a dog sweater for them, not only will they look adorable, but they will be warm and comfortable as well! Placing their bed next to a heater can also do the trick!

If your Maltese is shaking and shivering because of anxiety, stress, or fear, there are several steps you can take to ensure that they stay calm and relaxed in stressful situations:

1. Reassure them — Removing your pup from the situation that is causing them stress can help them automatically calm down. Petting them and talking softly to provide them comfort can help ease their anxiety and cause their shaking to go away.

2. Keep yourself calm — To keep your dog calm, it is often important to keep yourself calm. Our dogs put so much trust into us, it is important to be there for them and show them how to stay calm. Keeping yourself calm will cause your pup to follow your lead!

3. Prepare for situations ahead of time — If you know that a situation will be occurring that makes your Maltese stressed, anxious, or fearful, try preparing for the situation early.

Tip: If your Maltese begins shaking when guests arrive at your house, it is probably because they are nervous to be around people, try holding them or putting them in a quiet space.

Some Maltese get very upset and anxious when they are separated from their owners, like when they go to the vet or groomer. They may begin shaking if they know they are going to the vet/groomer, or even once they come home. It may be helpful to choose a groomer or vet that works well with your dog; this can eliminate any discomfort your pup may be feeling.

Note: Keep in mind that it is important not to comfort your Maltese too much if they are shaking or trembling from fear or stress/anxiety. Our pups are smarter than we sometimes think! They may catch on that every time they begin to shake their owner runs to comfort them. This may result in your pup shaking on purpose to get attention.

While there are many non-concerning reasons your Maltese may be shaking, there are also more serious issues that could be making your pup react this way.

If your Maltese is shaking and shivering suddenly this may be a sign of conditions such as the following:

  • Distemper (A contagious viral disease — prevented by vaccination.)
  • Hypoglycemia (blood sugar drops below certain limits)
  • Shaker Syndrome (Inflammation of certain areas of the brain — very common in Maltese breed.)

Note: A lot of serious medical conditions are accompanied by vomiting. If you notice your Maltese shaking along with vomiting, get them to the vet right away!

Even though there are many physical and emotional reasons why your Maltese could be shaking, there is also the fact that their shaking can be inherited and is normally nothing to worry about as long as they are not experiencing severe shakes and tremors!

What Is Shaker Syndrome?

A serious condition that is commonly found in the Maltese breed is “shaker syndrome,” also called “tremor syndrome” or “generalized tremor syndrome” (GTS). This is caused when the cerebellum (a part of the brain) becomes inflamed, causing the dog to shiver and shake.

Not only does shaker syndrome/tremor syndrome cause Maltese to shake, but this syndrome also causes unwanted effects to other systems in their bodies.

Once the brain is inflamed, issues within the sensory system of the dog (vision, hearing, touch, taste, smell), and the muscles and motor movements (balance, coordination, posture, etc.) can become affected.

There is currently no known reason why our pups suffer from this syndrome. It is a common idea that white breed dogs are more prone to this syndrome because of their melanin levels (pigment occurring in the hair, skin, and iris of the eye). It is also often stated that smaller dogs tend to have shaker syndrome (dogs under 33 lbs.) — often called “Little White Shaker Syndrome”

These are interesting theories because other dogs have been known to have shaker syndrome that are not white breeds and above 33 lbs. Although, the Maltese breed is one of the most common to end up developing shaker syndrome. 

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Shaker Syndrome?

If you think your Maltese may be suffering from shaker syndrome, it is important to first look for other signs of illness or injury. If your pup is shaking without any other abnormal behavior, and this is not common for your dog, it is best to contact the vet as soon as possible!

Some symptoms and signs specifically linked to shaker syndrome include:

  • Repetitive tremors/shaking (worsening after 1–3 days then remaining the same until treatment)
  • Head bobbing/tilting
  • Uncontrolled eye movements (rapid eye movement)
  • Mild to severe shaking
  • Inability to walk or exaggerated leg movements caused by shaking  
  • Shaking of the body limited to one area (head, legs, etc.)
  • Shaking increases in severity as time goes on
  • Loss of appetite
  • Shaking is worse with change (after travel, or being in a new environment), called “intention tremors”
  • Shaking goes away when the dog is sleeping

What Is the Treatment for Shaker Syndrome?

Shaker Syndrome is usually easily treatable by medication, specifically medicines that work very fast (corticosteroids). These medicines work to reduce inflammation in the brain which then eliminates the shaking and tremors.

The Maltese breed can handle a high dosage of medication and then slowly lower the dose as symptoms go away. Although, if the medicine is not used correctly or consistently, the symptoms of shaking and trembling may reappear.

Other medicines that are oftentimes used to cure shaker syndrome and tremors in the Maltese breed include muscle relaxers and anticonvulsants.

A Veterinarian will first rule out any other common causes of shakes and tremors before diagnosing your pup with shaker syndrome. They will also do a blood and urine sample and a fluid sample from the lower part of the spine.

Tip: Make sure to give your vet all of the knowledge you have about your pup and its history previous to their shaking occurring, this can be important in determining whether or not they have shaker syndrome or not!

If your Maltese is shaking to a severe level or is very ill, your vet may decide to hospitalize them. There is no need to worry! Your vet will be able to do the necessary tasks to keep your pup happy and healthy.

After your Maltese is cured of shaking and any other illness, it is important to keep an eye on them and their actions to ensure that any symptoms do not reoccur, you may consider scheduling follow-up appointments with your vet!

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Why Does My Maltese Shake Its Head?

Head shaking is a common symptom of shaker syndrome, especially since the brain is the place being affected the most. Although, shaker syndrome is typically generalized and occurs over the whole body.

If a vet has ruled out shaker syndrome, general shivers/tremors, and other extreme cases, your dog is likely having issues with its ear(s).

If your Maltese is shaking its head because of an ear issue it may be caused by common allergies, an ear infection, or an irritant within the ear such as ear mites, debris, or hair. Along with head shaking, your pup may scratch at its ears or rub its head against different surfaces to relieve any discomfort.

Typically, if your Maltese is shaking its head and the issue is not severe, a doctor can prescribe medications or creams such as ear drops that will fix the problem very quickly!

Here are some signs other than shaking that may indicate your pup has an ear infection:

  • Redness inside the ear
  • Yellow, brown, or bloody discharge
  • Odor coming from the ear
  • Swelling of the ear
  • Crusts or scabs inside the ear
  • Loss of balance
  • Hearing loss
  • Walking in circles
  • Unusual eye movements

Tip: Since shaker syndrome has a lot of the same symptoms as ear infections, it is best to take your pup to the vet and get them checked out just to be sure!

Read these Next: Everything you Need to Know about Maltese!

Why Does My Maltese Eat Everything (Grass, Poop, Sticks, Dirt)?

Maltese Teething and Teeth Care Guide

How Much Do Maltese Sleep? (Inside info From Owners)

While we strive to give the most accurate and helpful information about your pet’s health that we can, this article is meant to be informational only and not medical advice. Never disregard, avoid or delay in obtaining medical advice from your veterinarian or other qualified veterinary health care provider regardless of what you have read on this site or elsewhere.