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Narcolepsy in Dogs - Symptoms & Treatment

Narcolepsy in Dogs - Symptoms & Treatment

Narcolepsy is a neurological disorder seen in people and dogs that is characterized by sudden and uncontrollable episodes of daytime sleepiness.  What are the causes, signs and symptoms of narcolepsy in dogs? How is it diagnosed? Our Winston-Salem vets answer these questions and more. 

Can Dogs Have Narcolepsy?

Yes, dogs can suffer from narcolepsy. While narcolepsy is more commonly diagnosed in certain dog breeds such as Labrador Retrievers, Doberman Pinschers, and Dachshunds, it can potentially occur in any breed or mixed breed dog. 

What is narcolepsy?

Narcolepsy is a chronic neurological disorder that affects the brain's ability to regulate sleep-wake cycles. In humans, narcolepsy is often associated with a lack of the neuropeptide hypocretin, which helps regulate wakefulness and sleep. However, in dogs, the specific cause of narcolepsy is still not completely understood.

What causes narcolepsy in dogs?

While the exact cause of narcolepsy in dogs is not fully understood, it is thought to have a genetic basis. In some cases, the disorder seems to be primarily inherited, meaning it can be passed down from parent dogs to their offspring and studies have identified specific gene mutations associated with narcolepsy in certain dog breeds.

That said, the condition may also be associated with other diseases seen in dogs such as obesity or immune system disorders.

What signs or symptoms are shown by dogs with narcolepsy?

While the signs of narcolepsy in dogs can vary between individual pets they are generally similar to the symptoms observed in humans and may include:

  • Excessive daytime sleepiness that leads dogs to suddenly fall asleep or have episodes of uncontrolled sleep during the day.
  • Sudden episodes of muscle weakness or collapse triggered by excitement, emotions, or play.
  • Some dogs experience 'sleep attacks' where they fall into a deep sleep without warning, even in the middle of an activity.
  • Muscle weakness, difficulty standing or appearing wobbly after waking up from a sleep episode.

How is narcolepsy in dogs diagnosed?

Diagnosing narcolepsy in dogs can be challenging, as the symptoms can overlap with other medical conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and epilepsy. If you suspect your dog may have narcolepsy, it is essential to consult with a veterinarian. In some cases, the advanced diagnostics and care of a veterinary neurologist will be beneficial.

The diagnosis of narcolepsy typically involves a comprehensive evaluation, including a thorough medical history, physical examination, and ruling out other potential causes of excessive sleepiness. Additional diagnostic tests may be recommended to confirm the presence of narcolepsy such as:

  • Blood chemical profile to check your dog’s organ function and make sure that their liver and kidneys are functioning properly. This test may also include checking your dog’s protein levels and blood sugar as these can be associated with sudden collapse.
  • Complete blood count (CBC) to check your dog’s blood level and make sure that they are not anemic and that they are adequately hydrated.
  • Urinalysis to ensure that your dog does not have a bladder infection and to provide your vet with an indication of how well your pup's kidneys are functioning.
  • Electrolyte panel to help make sure that there are no electrolyte imbalances that could be causing your dog to pass out.

Can narcolepsy in dogs be treated?

While there is no cure for narcolepsy in dogs, several management strategies can help improve their quality of life.

It is important to begin by identifying any possible triggers, or patterns related to your dog's sudden sleep episodes so that you are able to adjust your behavior, and their activities accordingly. For example, if your dog commonly experiences episodes when visitors arrive, you may want to try staying by your pup's side to help calm them whenever guests come to your door.

Other treatment options to help control the frequency of sleep episodes and help to improve your pet's quality of life include:

  • Prescription medications such as stimulants and antidepressants to promote wakefulness and reduce the frequency of sleep attacks.
  • Creating a calm and quiet environment can help minimize triggers that may lead to sleep attacks or episodes of cataplexy.
  • Providing plenty closely supervised exercise and mental stimulation in a safe environment.

What is the prognosis for dogs suffering from narcolepsy?

While narcolepsy is a lifelong condition, with proper management and treatment, most dogs can lead relatively normal lives. It is important to work closely with your veterinarian to develop a tailored treatment plan and to monitor your dog's response to therapy.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet. 

At Carolina Veterinary Specialists our neurology team provides advanced diagnostics and treatment for pets suffering from a range of neurological conditions. Contact our Winston-Salem specialist vets today to learn more.

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