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Narcolepsy in Dogs

What Is Narcolepsy in Dogs?

Narcolepsy in dogs is an uncommon reason for abrupt collapses or fainting episodes. Although witnessing such occurrences can be alarming, they typically do not pose a life-threatening risk. Treatment involves a combination of medications and lifestyle adjustments to mitigate the condition’s severity. However, since narcolepsy cannot be cured, ongoing management is necessary.


Indications of narcolepsy comprise:

  • Sudden episodes of fainting/paralysis and loss of consciousness, typically occurring during periods of activity or excitement
  • Loss of muscle tone and reflexes (cataplexy)
  • Rapid eye movements (REM)

Usually, these episodes last only a few seconds, although some dogs may take several minutes to fully recover. Many dogs can be roused from these events with attempts to wake them, resembling waking from sleep. If your dog remains unresponsive and the episode persists for more than a few minutes, it’s advisable to contact the nearest emergency veterinarian to rule out any other underlying issues. Even if your dog regains consciousness quickly and easily, it’s prudent to reach out to your primary veterinarian after an episode if a diagnosis or treatment plan hasn’t been established, to ensure appropriate further steps are taken.


Narcolepsy typically stems from a hereditary disorder, often first manifested and diagnosed in young canines. In breeds like Doberman Pinschers, Labrador Retrievers, and Dachshunds, a recessive gene associated with narcolepsy has been identified. However, any breed can be susceptible to this condition. Additionally, multiple gene mutations leading to similar clinical manifestations have been identified.

In rare instances, narcolepsy has been triggered by severe inflammatory events such as meningitis or pneumonia in dogs without a genetic predisposition. Referred to as acquired narcolepsy, this occurrence is likely attributable to immune system dysfunction, though research in this area remains limited in understanding.


Given the various potential causes of collapse in dogs, conducting a comprehensive examination and blood workup is crucial to eliminate cardiac, muscular, or other neurological dysfunctions in dogs displaying narcolepsy symptoms. Typically, results from a complete blood count, blood chemistry, urinalysis, and initial imaging (x-rays and ultrasound) appear normal in these cases. Narcolepsy diagnosis often relies on symptom observation and exclusion of other potential causes.

For more in-depth evaluation, scheduling a consultation with a neurologist for advanced diagnostics such as MRI and cerebrospinal fluid analysis can be beneficial in identifying any physical brain changes. While not applicable to all instances, if narcolepsy in the affected dog stems from hypocretin deficiency (a neurotransmitter), this can be quantified through testing.


A critical aspect of treatment involves identifying patterns that precipitate episodes. Many narcoleptic pets experience these events most frequently during moments of excitement or high-exertion activities. Recognizing and avoiding such situations may help reduce the frequency of episodes. Sharing videos of episodes with your veterinarian can aid in pinpointing potential triggers.

In cases where pets experience episodes frequently, additional therapy may be necessary. Tricyclic antidepressants like imipramine have shown success in calming some patients. For acquired narcolepsy, steroids and other immune system-modifying drugs may prove beneficial.

Unlike seizures, narcoleptic episodes themselves are unlikely to cause harm in a safe environment. They are not painful, and most bodily functions remain normal.

Living and Management

Achieving complete remission (or cure) of narcolepsy is uncommon, even with medication, but dogs can lead relatively normal lives with this condition. Environmental management plays a crucial role in long-term success. While play and physical activity are essential for maintaining a good quality of life, caution must be exercised in selecting locations to minimize the risk of injury during narcoleptic episodes. Activities such as swimming, running, and hiking steep mountains pose greater risks for narcoleptic dogs.

It’s important to consider that other dogs may not comprehend your dog’s condition. Fear and reactive aggression may arise from companions when a narcoleptic dog exhibits sudden, abnormal behavior and body language. Therefore, interactions with other dogs should be closely monitored, and it may be advisable to avoid large groups of dogs or dog parks.

Narcolepsy in Dogs FAQs

How can I tell if my dog has narcolepsy?

Narcolepsy manifests as a sudden loss of consciousness, typically occurring during periods of excitement or activity, where the dog appears to be asleep. Often, dogs can be roused from these episodes. If you observe these symptoms in your dog, it’s crucial to promptly schedule an appointment with your veterinarian for evaluation.

Can dogs grow out of narcolepsy?

Narcolepsy is a lifelong condition without a current cure. However, it can be effectively managed to maintain a good quality of life for both your dog and your family.

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