Is My Dog Narcoleptic? How to Know

When my little princess was about four-years-old she wanted a rabbit. I think just about all kids go through stages of wanting different pets. And my little Natileigh was no different.

I too was no different from any other father. I caved in and we got her a rabbit.

On the day we went to get the rabbit, I was introduced to ‘fainting goats.’ These goats looked like any other goat, except for the fact they would ‘fall out’ wherever they were in a split second.

These goats suffered from narcolepsy. A disorder in which the person, or in the animal just falls asleep. No warning, no yawning, just BAM…asleep. I wanted the ‘fainting goat.’ We left with the rabbit.

Narcolepsy as I said, can induce instant sleep in humans, animals, and even fish. Your dog can also have narcolepsy. A Narcoleptic episode is totally harmless to the person having it. The biggest fear is they may fall on something and injure themselves when they fall asleep.

Narcolepsy in dogs is the same. In no way is animal suffering. They simply look as if they are enjoying a nice ‘snooze’ as it were.

But how can you tell if your dog is actually Narcoleptic? And what are some of the signs of Narcolepsy? For the purpose of our article today, we will explore Narcolepsy as it pertains to canines.

Narcolepsy explained

A Narcoleptic dog is one with a brain disorder. It involves the inability to have any control of the sleep-wake function of its brain.

These dogs can not control the urge to fall asleep without going into Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. In their world, when one of these attacks takes place, the light’s just simply ‘go out.’

Unless you just happen to notice the dog at the onset of a Narcoleptic episode, he would seem normal. A Narcoleptic dog looks just like any other dog.

He might be running along, suddenly stop, and fall to the ground. By the time he hits the ground, he will be in a deep sleep. These attacks happen suddenly without warning and can last from a few minutes to an hour or longer. The dog will wake as normal and resume his activity.

Causes of narcolepsy

Most dog owners have never heard of a dog having Narcolepsy. However, it would seem it is a genetic disorder.

Narcolepsy in dogs seems to be breed-specific. It mostly attacks the following breeds:

  • Labrador Retriever
  • Poodles
  • Dachshunds
  • Dobermans

These dog breeds all have a specific gene that interferes with the brain’s ability to produce hypocretin. Hypocretin is the chemical the brain producing the regulators of specific wake-sleep patterns associated with the dog’s circadian rhythm.

Some other causes of Narcolepsy in dogs are:

  • Immune deficiency disorders
  • Nerve disorders
  • Unknown disorders

Only your vet can make a proper diagnosis and proper treatment plan if your dog is suffering from Narcolepsy.

Is it narcolepsy or cataplexy?

Cataplexy is a similar disorder. Similarly in it can not be controlled. If a dog has Cataplexy, they will become totally paralyzed but without the loss of consciousness. They will appear to be in some cases, semi-conscious with their eyes partially shut.

While the disorders do seem similar, particularly when someone sees them, they are totally different. In Narcoleptic dogs, the brain’s sleep-wake center is under attack.

In Cataplexy, the dog’s ability to control its muscular abilities are under attack. Both conditions are brief, non-life-threatening, and reversible. But only with the help of a qualified vet.

Veterinarian diagnosis

Your dog’s vet will be able to make the proper diagnosis. However, he may need additional testing. There are actually Canine Sleep Disorder Clinics, just like there are for humans. Clinics where the dog’s sleep habits will be monitored.

Your vet can probably make the call from simple blood and urine tests. These tests will reveal to the vet the presence or non-presence of the hypocretin discussed earlier.

However, if the vet is not convinced, he may recommend a visit to the sleep clinic so a video could capture one of these events for further studies.

These canine sleeping facilities can also monitor other issues the dog may be having while sleeping such as loss of bladder control or bowel control. Some dogs who suffer from severe Narcolepsy also suffer these waste eliminating issues as well.

All of these conditions can be alleviated by the use of the proper medications, and the dogs will go on to live happy healthy lives.

And actually, sleep like a normal dog!

Visual symptoms of narcolepsy

If you didn’t know the dog had Narcolepsy, the dog would appear to be normal. When the attack occurs, they simply fall asleep. And most of the time it appears normal. But how can a person tell if it’s a sleeping dog or Narcolepsy? Here are some of the more usual symptoms of Narcolepsy:

  • Rapid onset with no apparent warning
  • Most episodes only last a few minutes. Some can rarely last for an hour or more
  • Twitching motions and whimpering during sleeping episodes
  • The episode can be ended by verbal communication or petting

These are the most recognizable symptoms of canine Narcolepsy.

Prevention of narcolepsy

The vet will recommend a lifestyle change for the dog in addition to the medication he will prescribe. Your dog can easily overcome the Narcolepsy with the proper medicine and a few changes in his routine.

One of the more common changes is to offer the dog more daily stimulation. Simple tasks such as taking the dog for ‘mini-walk’ at the time he might be getting ready for an episode. Keep his mind occupied.

Anything the vet would consider stimulating activity may be exactly what the dog needs to overcome his Narcolepsy. If the dog is too busy to fall asleep, most of the time he won’t!

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