A closer look: 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.
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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.
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.
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.
Are Narcolepsy and Cataplexy in Cats common?
This condition is extremely rare in cats.
- Benign neglect
- Diet supplementation (omega-3s, antioxidants)
- Avoiding triggers
- Medications (tricyclic antidepressants, melatonin)