We’ve discussed service dogs for narcoleptic people, but what about narcoleptic dogs?
Dogs can suffer from narcolepsy too. This condition causes episodes of sleep or lack of muscle control (cataplexy) or both. Dogs fall asleep without warning, although the episodes might be triggered by strong emotional events such as excitement or fear.
The condition can also cause lethargic behavior and prolonged sleepiness. Episodes range from several seconds to several minutes.
Symptoms of Narcolepsy
Symptoms of this condition can vary in their frequency from a few times per month to daily occurrences, depending on the severity of the condition. Although episodes can be painful to watch, they are not life-threatening. The symptoms are sometimes mistaken for epilepsy.
- Excessive or continued sleepiness/drowsiness
- Increased periods of daytime sleep
- Immediate onset of deep sleep
- Difficulty waking
- Loss of consciousness
- Spontaneous or sudden waking
- Tremors or muscle twitches
- Rapid eye movement
- Open eyes during sleep or paralysis
What Causes Narcolepsy?
The brains of narcoleptic dogs produce the same level of chemicals as other dogs, but they lack the receptors needed for the ability to control sleep.
While a rare cause can be an underlying brain disease, narcolepsy is believed to be an inherited condition. Breeds susceptible to this condition include Labrador Retrievers, Doberman Pinschers, Poodles and Dachshunds. Smaller breeds may be affected more severely than larger dogs.
Watch this video of narcoleptic dog Skeeter’s episodes as they begin and occur:
There is no known cure for narcolepsy at this time. Symptom management can be done, however, and may include antidepressants to block certain brain chemicals or oral stimulants to control sleepiness.
Other physical treatments can be used around or during the episodes, such as massaging or petting the dog to keep her awake or wake her, producing a loud noise, minimizing exciting events and providing a calm atmosphere. The effects of treatment will depend on the dog and the severity of the condition. These treatments may rarely be needed in some dogs, while other dogs (such as Skeeter in the video above) must be constantly stimulated just to stay awake long enough to eat.
Research is ongoing for humans and animals, but right now there is no cure or preventive. Narcoleptic dogs must be kept in a safe and enclosed environment at all times. Their symptoms need to be monitored and steps should be taken to reduce their stress and excitement.
Small dogs with narcolepsy can be especially at risk when outdoors. Other animals or larger dogs may see them as prey, and a narcoleptic episode provides a possibility that your dog will be harmed or killed. Always stay with your dog and keep him on a leash.
Talk With Your Vet
If you believe your dog has narcolepsy, there are certain tests and variables that can be evaluated. The vet can perform a physical exam and run tests such as a chemical blood profile, blood count, urinalysis or electrolyte test to see if anything else is causing the episodes. Keep notes of the frequency, duration and times of the episodes. If you are able to record one with a video camera, that will also help the vet make a determination.
If you feel your dog’s condition is worsening or that medications might be needed, consult your vet to explore the options. Never give human medications to your dog. Even though some medications may be okay, the dosage and type may vary drastically for dogs and cause illness or death.
Work with your veterinarian to manage the condition, and it’s also a good idea to keep a log of your dog’s episodes. You may notice a pattern where episodes occur at a certain time of day or by certain triggers, such as the doorbell chime. By monitoring the effects of certain stimuli, you may be able to reduce their occurrences and lessen the narcoleptic episodes for your dog.