Narcolepsy and Cataplexy in Dogs

Published on
Last updated on
3 min read

Key takeaways

Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder affecting the brain characterized by excessive daytime sleepiness and spontaneous or emotion-triggered collapse (cataplexy). 

  • This is an uncommon condition in dogs, and can be caused by a genetic predisposition or in rare cases, a brain disorder or nerve disease
  • Symptoms include rapid, sudden collapse, rapid eye movements and muscle twitching, and excessive daytime sleepiness
  • Diagnostics include eliminating other disorders with similar symptoms, and observing an episode and any associated triggers
  • Treatment may not be needed, or may involve simply modifying the environment to eliminate known triggers
  • In severe cases, supportive medications may be recommended
  • The prognosis is typically good: most patients have a good quality of life with appropriate management
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A closer look: Narcolepsy and Cataplexy in Dogs

Narcolepsy is not well understood in dogs. Even though the condition is not life-threatening, dogs with signs of narcolepsy require non urgent veterinary assessment to rule out other more serious neurological conditions.

Note: Pet owners may find narcoleptic episodes appear similar to seizures. The first occurrence of a seizure should always be treated as a medical emergency. Any sudden onset of neurological symptoms should be investigated promptly.

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Risk factors

Symptoms of narcolepsy generally do not vary in severity, other than the frequency of episodes. The frequency of episodes may affect the dog’s quality of life, but does not impact overall health directly.

Narcolepsy is an uncommon condition in dogs. While it is not fatal or an emergency, it is best evaluated by a veterinarian to ensure there are no harmful underlying causes associated with narcoleptic episodes.

Congenital causes are more common than acquired, and are more common in Doberman pinschers, Labrador retrievers, poodles, and dachshunds.

Possible causes

The causes of narcolepsy can be both congenital (present at birth) and acquired (develop over the animal’s lifetime). Acquired causes are extremely rare but can include immune disorders, nerve disorders, and brain disease. Some causes of narcolepsy have no identifiable cause (idiopathic).

Main symptoms

Symptoms typically develop suddenly, followed by rapid recovery.

Testing and diagnosis

After a medical history and physical examination, diagnostic tests can be done to eliminate other disorders with similar symptoms, including:

  • Bloodwork
  • Diagnostic imaging
  • Urinalysis
  • Cerebrospinal fluid analysis (spinal tap)

Primarily narcolepsy is diagnosed by viewing an episode, whether stimulated by the vet or through a recording or description of the event.

Steps to Recovery

There is no cure or definitive treatment for narcolepsy. Environmental changes can be made if a trigger has been identified (such as food, overstimulation, excitement) and the condition can resolve with careful management. If the episodes are very frequent or concerning, some medications (antidepressants, stimulants) may be able to minimize symptoms. In some cases, particularly congenital forms, symptoms may improve on their own over time.

In most cases, narcolepsy is a lifelong condition, although some cases may improve over time. Narcolepsy does not cause pain and can typically be managed to provide an otherwise healthy life.


The causes of narcolepsy are unknown or genetic and therefore cannot be prevented. Episodes may be minimized in cases where triggers are known, allowing for prevention before the dog loses consciousness.

Narcolepsy is not contagious.

Are Narcolepsy and Cataplexy in Dogs common?

Narcolepsy is uncommon in dogs.

Typical Treatment

  • Environmental modifications
  • Medication

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