Narcolepsy and Cataplexy in Dogs

Overview of Canine Narcolepsy and Cataplexy

Narcolepsy is excessive daytime sleepiness, lethargy, or brief periods of collapse and unconsciousness that resolve spontaneously. Cataplexy is characterized by brief episodes of muscle paralysis with loss of tendon reflexes; the dog stays alert and will follow with his eyes. These brief episodes of motor inhibition are completely and spontaneously reversible.

These central nervous system disorders usually occur together in most dogs although narcolepsy can occur without cataplexy. The attacks may last anywhere from a few seconds to more than 20 minutes. In between episodes, your dog is usually normal. Some pets will have from several attacks per week to hundreds per day. This disorder is extremely rare in cats.

Multiple breeds of dogs can be affected including Doberman pinscher, miniature poodle, Labrador retriever, dachshund, Saint Bernard, beagle, Afghan hound, Airedale terrier, Welsh corgi terrier, malamute, springer spaniel, standard poodle, wire-haired griffon, Australian shepherd, giant Schnauzer and Rottweiler.

There is proven heredity in the Labrador retriever, poodle, dachshund and Doberman pinscher. Genetic studies of Labradors and Doberman pinschers support a recessive inheritance with complete penetrance.

Clinical signs usually develop in dogs younger than six months of age.

What to Watch For

Signs of narcolepsy and cataplexy in dogs may include:

Diagnosis of Narcolepsy and Cataplexy in Dogs

Veterinary care consists of appropriate diagnostic and therapeutic recommendations. Diseases that may mimic this condition include heart disease, seizure disorders, myasthenia gravis, low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), low blood calcium (hypocalcemia), low blood potassium (hypokalemia), low levels of oxygen in the blood (hypoxia), an underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism) and hypoadrenocorticism (Addison’s disease).

Your veterinarian will perform a complete physical and neurological examination. The results of these tests should be normal if narcolepsy/cataplexy is the presumptive diagnosis. Your veterinarian may recommend the following diagnostic tests to rule out other possible diagnoses:

Treatment of Narcolepsy and Cataplexy in Dogs

Home Care and Prevention

Narcolepsy is not a fatal disease. Prognosis varies since the disease is not curable, and even with treatment some dogs continue to have symptoms. If you suspect your dog is having a narcoleptic attack, you can reverse the attack by petting, talking or otherwise stimulating him.

Depending on the frequency and severity of the attacks you may not need to medicate your dog and your pet may outgrow this condition.

Since the condition may be heritable, your dog should be spayed or neutered to prevent passing this trait on to offspring.