How Common is Narcolepsy in Dogs?

How Common is Narcolepsy in Dogs?

Posted by volhard dog nutrition on Oct 31st 2023

Narcolepsy in dogs is a rare nervous system disorder more commonly observed in young dogs and cats. It causes them to unexpectedly fall asleep, even when they're in the midst of an activity.

Imagine a pup joyfully playing one moment and the next, they're dozing off, only to wake up moments later as if all is normal.

While the exact reasons behind narcolepsy in dogs remain a mystery, fortunately, it's not life-threatening. A narcoleptic dog can still lead a fulfilling life — despite the occasional sleep interruptions!

Symptoms of Narcolepsy in Dogs

Symptoms of narcolepsy in dogs

The key symptoms of narcolepsy in dogs to look out for include:

  • Drooping Spine
  • Lack of Activity or Tendency to Sleep During the Day: Even when they're not having an episode, narcoleptic dogs seem less active or sleepier than usual.
  • Legs Buckling Suddenly: Even if the dog doesn't fully collapse, their legs might give out for no apparent reason.
  • Rapid Eye Movements or Twitching: Dogs with narcolepsy may show these eye movements even when they're awake.
  • Sudden Collapse or Falling (Narcoleptic Episode): When your dog suddenly drops as if they've fallen asleep.
  • Sudden Unexplained Sleep: This is not your typical nap. Dogs with narcolepsy might suddenly doze off without any prior signs of drowsiness.
  • Symptoms Appear at Predictable Times: Certain triggers, such as feeding or playing, prompt these narcoleptic episodes.

Although these symptoms sound alarming, they affect only your dog's quality of life, not their overall health.

Causes of Narcolepsy in Dogs

Causes of narcolepsy in dogs

While the root causes of narcolepsy in dogs can vary, they generally fall into three categories:

  1. Congenital: Breeds like Doberman Pinschers, Labrador Retrievers, Poodles, and Dachshunds are prone to narcolepsy due to a genetic hiccup that affects a neurotransmitter in the brain known as hypocretin. When there's something off with the hypocretin receptors, the usual sleep cycles of dogs get mixed up, leading to those sudden sleep spells.
  1. Acquired: Some dogs develop narcolepsy due to autoimmune disorders, nerve issues, or brain diseases. Even a significant inflammatory event like meningitis or pneumonia may trigger narcolepsy in dogs.
  1. Idiopathic: Sometimes, even after scores of tests and check-ups, veterinarians scratch their heads, unable to pinpoint the exact reason behind the dog's narcolepsy.

Is Narcolepsy Contagious?

Narcolepsy is not a condition that can spread among dogs. So, if you're worried about one of your furry friends catching narcolepsy from another dog, you can put those concerns to rest.

Diagnosing Narcolepsy in Dogs

Veterinarians use a combination of physical examinations, diagnostic tests, and the parent's observations when diagnosing narcolepsy in dogs:

  1. Physical Examination: The vet will inspect your dog's overall health and look for signs indicating narcolepsy.
  1. Diagnostic Tests:
  • Blood Work: This includes a couple of specific tests, such as the blood chemical profile, which looks at organ function, protein levels, and blood sugar. These results will rule out other underlying causes behind your dog's sudden collapse.
  • Complete Blood Count (CBC): Through this test, your vet can determine if your dog has the correct number of blood cells and if they're adequately hydrated. It's an excellent way to rule out anemia.
  • Electrolyte Panel: This test ensures your dog's electrolyte levels are balanced.
  1. Diagnostic Imaging: Even though tools like X-rays and ultrasound usually show everything as normal in narcoleptic dogs, your vet might still use them to eliminate other possible health concerns.
  1. Spinal Fluid Analysis: By studying the fluid around the spine, vets gather more information about the dog's neurological health.
  1. Observing an Episode: Sometimes, seeing is believing. Watching a narcoleptic episode in person or through a video can significantly help with diagnosis.

Lastly, a quick safety tip: if your dog does have a narcoleptic episode, make sure you clear away any objects or obstacles nearby. The last thing you'd want is for your dog to get hurt on something sharp or hard.

When to Take a Narcoleptic Dog to the Vet

The first occurrence of a narcoleptic attack should always be treated as a medical emergency.

Fortunately, dogs showing signs of narcolepsy rarely need emergency care. The vet visit serves mainly to rule out other brain-related conditions (for example, seizures).

Once your vet settles on a narcolepsy diagnosis, they will give you all the necessary tools to help your dog manage this condition and improve their quality of life.

Treatment for Narcolepsy in Dogs

There's no magic cure for narcolepsy. That means, for many dogs, this condition is something they'll have their whole lives. But don't get too worried — there are ways to manage it!

Specific narcoleptic episodes in dogs are triggered by their environment. It could be a particular food, or maybe they get too excited or overstimulated by something.

Dogs have the option of medication if the episode frequency becomes debilitating. For example, if your dog gets overly excited, they might benefit from medicine that calms them down. On the flip side, if they're too sleepy because of their narcolepsy, certain medications can help perk them up.

Dogs with congenital narcolepsy might see their symptoms improve with age or even grow out of it completely!

One thing to be cautious about is how other dogs react to a narcoleptic attack. If your dog suddenly has an episode, other dogs might get scared or aggressive because they don't understand what's happening.

Can Narcolepsy Be Prevented?

Since experts aren't entirely sure why narcolepsy happens, preventing it becomes challenging.

Basically, if a dog has the genes that might cause narcolepsy, there isn't much you can do to change that.

What you can do is focus on understanding, managing, and caring for dogs that have it, ensuring they live their best lives.

Cheerful Asian woman playing with happy Golden Retriever

Symptom Management is Your Dog's Ticket to an Improved Quality of Life

Narcolepsy, be it congenital, acquired, or idiopathic, does not have to affect your dog's well-being. As long as you find the common denominator between your dog's behavior and narcolepsy, you'll be equipped to handle its symptoms and help your four-legged friend enjoy life to the fullest. For more advice on dog nutrition, health, and training, make sure that you contact us and check out our blog!

Volhard Dog Nutrition and its expert nutritionists are now offering online consultations to help more dog parents discover why, what, and how to feed their dogs the healthiest of foods! Speaking to a Volhard nutritionist will help you understand the inseparable relationship between healthy food, a healthy body, and a healthy mind. If you're interested in contacting one of our Volhard nutritionists, don't hesitate to access our consultation page!

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