Play Dead: Dog Diagnosed With Narcolepsy

CHUBBUCK, Idaho - What should be some of a dog's greatest joys in life have become Skeeter's worst nightmare. Food, a chance at chasing a squirrel, going for a walk, or even an opportunity to sniff another dog all have the same effect on the 11-pound toy poodle: he's out cold.

"He has no personality right now," Shari Henderson told the Idaho State Journal. "It is scary. I don't want him turning into a couch pillow."

The condition, narcolepsy, is extremely rare in dogs and has fascinated Skeeter's veterinarian, Walter Rowntree of Bannock Animal Medical Center in Pocatello. The condition is so rare, Rowntree said, that there are no statistics available about its prevalence in dogs.

"I called four or five colleagues to brag that I'd diagnosed a narcoleptic dog," said Rowntree, who first examined Skeeter on Oct. 11 because of an enlarged lymph node.

The condition is more common in humans but has been documented in some dogs, horses, ponies and a single Brahman bull. It is caused by a disconnect between the normal sleep-wake cycle, triggered by excitement that causes the afflicted to go from being awake straight into a deep sleep. In humans, strong emotion triggers attacks, and dogs have strong emotions about eating, Rowntree said.

Stanford University researchers who studied a narcoleptic group of Dobermans discovered the dogs all lacked a certain brain protein involved in wakefulness.

With Skeeter, initially, only the sight of food triggered attacks. His condition has progressively gotten worse, and Rowntree hopes the human medication he prescribed for Skeeter on Tuesday — Ritalin and an antidepressant — will help restore Skeeter's normal routine.

Rowntree also notified faculty at the veterinary school at Washington State University in Pullman, Wash., who requested video footage of Skeeter.

Skeeter once spent his afternoons roaming the fence line in the Henderson's one-acre yard. When Shari's husband, Darrell, took him for two-mile walks, he pulled on the chain wanting to walk faster.

Now that Skeeter falls asleep in mid-trot, the Hendersons place him in a stroller for his customary walk.

Skeeter can no longer eat regular dog food, so the Hendersons hand-feed him cooked vegetables and lunch meat. To keep Skeeter awake during the meal, they hold up his back legs and massage his neck.

Aside from the danger of falling asleep in mid-activity, Rowntree said narcoleptic dogs can live as long as healthy dogs.

But Rowntree also noted that there's no joy for a dog who can't stay awake to experience the things he once loved to do.


No comments: