October 23, 2020 4 min read

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Was your dog just running around the yard and suddenly pass out? While this can be due to many different things, it can be because your dog has narcolepsy.  

Your dog may not be getting enough sleep at night, or they may be playing very hard to cause this sudden collapse. If your dog suddenly collapses, the best thing for you to do is to take them to your vet right away.  

What is Narcolepsy? 

Narcolepsy is adisease of the nervous system that usually affects younger dogs but can be seen in middle-aged to older dogs. This disease causes your dog to collapse and lose movement suddenly. Your dog will literally just fall asleep even if they are active. Usually, these dogs wake up just like nothing has happened. This usually occurs when your dog is playing or eating.

While this can be very scary, this is not a fatal disease. It can, however, cause issues with day to day activities in your dog’s life. This is usually considered a genetically inherited condition and is often associated with obesity. This is commonly seen in Doberman Pinschers as they have a specific form of narcolepsy related to a chemical neurotransmitter called hypocretin.

Signs of Narcolepsy in dogs

If your dog has narcolepsy the first thing that you will see is that they suddenly pass out. You will also see cataplexy. Cataplexy is a sudden loss of muscle function due to eating, playing, or extreme excitement. This may just last a few seconds but can last a few minutes. The usual signs that you will see if your dog does have narcolepsy are:

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How is narcolepsy in dogs diagnosed

If your dog suddenly collapses or you think that your dog has narcolepsy, they should see your vet right away. Many times, this disease can be easily diagnosed and identified based almost solely on symptoms and physical exam alone. Many times, your vet may also want to run other tests to make sure that there is nothing else going on. These test that your vet may want to run are:

  • Blood chemical profile: This will check your dog’s organ function and make sure that the liver and kidneys are functioning properly. It will also check your dog’s protein levels and blood sugar as all of these could cause sudden collapse
  • Complete blood count (CBD): A CBC will check your dog’s blood level and make sure that they are not anemic and adequately hydrated.
  • Urinalysis: This will make sure that your dog does not have a bladder infection and will give some indication of how well the kidneys are functioning.
  • Electrolyte Panel: This will help make sure that there are not any electrolyte imbalances causing your dog to pass out.

Usually, these multiple tests are necessary to determine if the issues are truly due to your dog having narcolepsy or something else. These tests will help your vet determine the exact cause of your dog’s symptoms.

How to Treat Narcolepsy in Dogs

While there is no treatment for narcolepsy, there are many things that you can look for to notice that these issues are about to happen.  Bystudying your dog’s signs and symptoms, you can easily be able to tell when a narcoleptic attack is about to happen in your dog.  If your notice that these episodes are about to happen, you can help make sure that your dog is in a safe area.  This would be away from a busy street or on a high surface that they may fall off of and hurt themselves.

Many times, these episodes are often linked to excitement.  Many times, you can stay near your dog and help them remain calm when visitors or other exciting events occur. In very severe cases, your vet may be able to prescribeoral medications that may help a dog who is dealing with frequent and severe attacks. 

Can a Dog live with a normal life with narcolepsy?

Most dogs can live a very normal life even if they have narcolepsy.  You will need to be more cautious and aware of your dog’s behavior during exciting or stressful events.  During these times, providing them calming words and attention will help the episodes quickly subside.  Try to avoid any stressful events, and try to keep your dog calm at all times will help decrease these events from happening. 

While a narcoleptic episode may be scary, this disease is rarely fatal and not painful at all.  Most dogs will suddenly collapse and, after a few minutes, will be back to normal. While there are other diseases such as heart failure that can mimic these signs, it is always best for your vet to look at your dog as soon as this happens to make sure that there is not anything else going on.  

Your vet can help give you advice on signs to look for and what to do to help stop these episodes from happening.  Sometimes there are medications that your vet can prescribe to help keep your dog calm.  By following your vet’s advice and being aware of the trigger signs, you can help your dog live a long and healthy life with narcolepsy. 

Meet The Author

Dr. Sara Ochoa author of Narcolepsy in dogs: what owners need to know

Dr. Sara Ochoa DVM

Since she was a little girl, she knew that her dream was to become a veterinarian. With a tremendous passion and love for animals that makes her a great source of knowledge for others. She lives happily with her husband Greg and her babies Ruby the Schnoodle, and Bam-Bam the bunny.