Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder that affects hundreds of thousands of people. And you may be surprised to know that dogs can have narcolepsy too.
“Nobody knows how frequent narcolepsy is in dogs,” AASM member Dr. Emmanuel Mignot told Discovery’s “Is It Possible?” He is the director of the Center for Narcolepsy at the Stanford School of Medicine.
The first reports of narcolepsy in dogs were published in 1973 and 1974. Over the following decades Stanford researchers were able to make important discoveries by studying canine narcolepsy.
In 1999 Mignot and colleagues determined that canine narcolepsy is caused by disruption of a hypocretin receptor gene. Hypocretin is a hormone that helps promote wakefulness. This led to their groundbreaking discovery that people with narcolepsy lack brain cells that make hypocretin.
More recently Mignot found evidence that narcolepsy is an autoimmune disorder. And his research shows that bacterial infections such as strep throat may activate the immune system response that kills hypocretin cells.
People with narcolepsy tend to have excessive daytime sleepiness. Frequent naps are common. And sudden, irresistible “sleep attacks” may occur in unusual situations.
Some people with narcolepsy also have “cataplexy.” This unique symptom involves a sudden loss of muscle tone while you are awake.
Your head may drop, or your knees may buckle. You may completely fall out on the floor. Episodes of cataplexy tend to be triggered by a strong emotion such as laughter or surprise.
Watch videos of dogs with narcolepsy and cataplexy on the Web site of the Stanford Center for Narcolepsy. Read more about narcolepsy.