Narcolepsy is a disorder characterized by cataplexy, excessive sleepiness and an abnormality in the phase of sleep called rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.  In dogs the most obvious sign is recurring cataleptic attacks.  During a cataleptic attack, the dog suddenly collapses with paralysis of all muscles except for muscles that move the eyes and muscles responsible for breathing.   The attacks are often provoked by excitement, such as feeding or play.  They usually last only a few seconds, although severe episodes can last for several minutes.  during a cataleptic attack, the dog is usually conscious but unable to move.  During a cataleptic attack the dog may enter REM sleep.  Calling to the dog or touching the dog may terminate an attack.

The association with excitement, lack of unconsciousness, lack of violent muscle movements, and rapid recovery are features of narcolepsy that help in the differentiation from epileptic seizures.  Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder, not a seizure disorder.  There is strong evidence that it is inherited in Doberman pinschers, Labrador Retrievers and Miniature Poodles.  It occurs in other breeds of dogs as well.  Narcolepsy can often be treated successfully with certain drugs, including methyphenedate and protriptyline.  Anti-seizure drugs are not effective.

WB Thomas, DVM
Dipl.ACVIM (Neurology)
University of Tennessee
Knoxville, TN