Narcolepsy and Cataplexy in Cats

Key Takeaways

Narcolepsy in cats is a chronic sleep disorder characterized by excessive sleepiness and cataplexy. Cataplexy is sudden collapse with complete loss of muscle tone which may be spontaneous or triggered by emotional stimuli, such as food. 

• Cataplexy can occur alone, but usually occurs with narcolepsy

• When cataplexy does occur alone, the cat does not lose consciousness

• While not a dangerous syndrome in itself, cats can injure themselves during episodes

• Symptoms are excessive daytime sleepiness, sudden collapse, twitching during episodes, and rapid return to normal consciousness

• Diagnosis is usually arrived at by attempting to bring on an episode with known or suspected triggers

• Treatment is not curative, and ranges from none to possible medications

• This is a life-long condition, but it does not affect quality of life for the cat

A Closer Look: What is Narcolepsy and Cataplexy in Cats?

Narcolepsy is a condition which is characterized by excessive sleepiness/drowsiness during the day. Cataplexy is a symptom which most often occurs in conjunction with narcolepsy whereby the cat has a sudden loss of muscle tone brought about by an emotional trigger. 

Narcolepsy/cataplexy is not dangerous in and of itself, but cats can injure themselves during episodes, so vigilance is crucial. Also, the symptoms can mimic those of more serious conditions, making diagnosis essential. Narcolepsy/cataplexy is extremely rare in cats. The condition is incurable but can be managed.

Risk Factors

Cataplexy on its own is a sudden paralysis without loss of consciousness. Episodes resolve suddenly and are often triggered by emotional stimuli.

Symptoms vary in frequency and duration of episodes.

Possible Causes

The cause of narcolepsy/cataplexy is unknown, but can be associated with acquired lesions of the brain stem. In addition, it is more common for narcolepsy/cataplexy to be congenital, and is thought to have a genetic component, with immune system involvement also being investigated.

Main Symptoms

• Sudden collapse

• Suddenly falling asleep at unusual times, resolving in seconds or minutes

• Eye and muscle twitching during episodes

• Rapid return to consciousness with stimulation such as petting

Testing and Diagnosis

When presented with a possible case of narcolepsy/cataplexy, a physical examination is done. Further diagnostic tests, including blood work and urinalysis, are used to rule out other causes for the presenting symptoms. If there are known triggers for the cataplectic episodes, those are used to attempt to elicit an episode to better observe the condition. One such common trigger is food and this is the one most often used first.

Steps to Recovery

As the cause is unknown, narcolepsy/cataplexy in cats is a life-long condition. It cannot be cured, but can be managed.  Management includes watching for small signs of oncoming episodes, avoiding triggers, gently stimulating the patient during episodes, and, in some cases, dietary supplementation or medications. Diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants may help to ameliorate symptoms. Other medications listed for potential treatments include antidepressants and melatonin. This syndrome has a fairly good prognosis as it is not a dangerous or fatal condition, with or without treatment.


There is no known way to prevent narcolepsy/cataplexy, but injuries may be preventable by watching for small signs of an oncoming episode, and gently alerting the cat to help the incident to pass quickly.

Is Narcolepsy and Cataplexy Common in Cats?

This condition is extremely rare in cats.

Typical Treatment

• Benign neglect

• Diet supplementation (Omega-3s, Antioxidants)

• Avoiding triggers

• Medications (Tricyclic antidepressants, Melatonin)

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