Narcolepsy is a condition in which your dog's neurological system malfunctions causing him to suddenly fall into a deep sleep with no warning. It can happen at any time, but is often triggered by excitement. It may be distressing to see, but it is not painful or particularly stressful for your dog.
Narcolepsy is not a common illness but it has been shown to have a genetic basis and some breeds, including Labradors, Poodles, and Dobermans, are particularly affected. The symptoms usually appear around six months of age.
Most dogs with narcolepsy will suffer an attack during periods of excitement, such as playing, meeting new people and dogs, or during mating. From being very active, they will suddenly keel over onto their sides with their eyes closed and essentially enter a very deep sleep. They may even have the flickering eye movements seen during REM sleep. Usually, each episode will only last a minute or less and they are soon back on their feet as if nothing happened.
During attacks, dogs are usually unaware of their surroundings and not in any kind of pain. You can help by ensuring they haven't fallen on anything hard or sharp, and by sitting with them and gently stroking and talking to them until they come round. The attack will usually last only thirty seconds or so, but some dogs can remain collapsed for up to thirty minutes.
Other symptoms of Narcolepsy include excessive daytime napping, drowsiness, and being difficult to rouse from sleep.
Your vet will make a diagnosis of Narcolepsy by ruling out other problems. They will perform a full physical examination, paying particular attention to the heart function as it can often be confused with fainting. They will probably also want to run blood tests, including electrolytes, to check for underlying diseases. It will also be very helpful if you can film a few episodes so that they can see exactly what is occurring.
There is no cure for Narcolepsy, but often it is possible to pinpoint what triggers a collapse and avoid such situations or at least minimize them. For example, if it is mating behavior, then it is best to stop that, as a dog with the problem could well pass it on to their offspring and should be removed from breeding programs. If the attack occurs during social situations, this is more difficult, as you will still want to take your dog out and not deny them the pleasure of interacting with people and other dogs. However, many pet parents with some experience of their dog's Narcolepsy can tell when things are getting a little too much and remove their pets from the situation.
Treatment can be attempted with certain medications but how successful they are is highly variable from one patient to another.
Narcolepsy is almost always a lifelong condition, but most cases can be managed effectively with a committed and attentive pet parent. However, as it is a heritable condition, it is important that affected dogs are neutered or spayed and not bred.