Sleeping Disorders in Animals
July 31, 2009
Maybe you've seen the comical home video on 'YouTube' titled
"sleepwalking fail"? It is a short clip of a sleeping dog that
starts to "run" horizontally in his sleep, then suddenly jumps up
and slams into a wall! Although the video is seriously funny, there
is nothing funny about what might be wrong with this animal. This
dog could be dreaming, although it unknown for certain if animals
dream according to Dr. M.A. Crist, Clinical Assistant Professor at
Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine. Most likely this
animal is displaying signs of a sleep disorder.
Sleeping disorders are not healthy, and as with humans, we see
disturbed sleep patterns as a sign of old age, disease or
life-altering illness. The two sleeping disorders that are most
dangerous to an animal's health are narcolepsy and cataplexy. If
your pet has one of these disorders and is left alone, or
unattended near water, they could possibly drown.
"Narcolepsy is the occurrence of uncontrollable Rapid Eye
Movement (REM) sleep phase characterized by the presence of rapid
eye movements and fast phase activity," said Crist "Cataplexy is
the sudden development of rapid duration voluntary muscle weakness,
flaccidity, or paralysis of all muscles except extraocular and
respiratory muscles. These two sleep disorders are usually a
congenital and inherited condition that can be brought on by
excitement such as playing, eating, drinking, or greeting owners
and can last seconds to minutes, many times a day, or
Warning signs of one or both of these disorders are the pet may
suddenly collapse into lateral or sterna recumbancy with no
movements. With narcolepsy the animal appears asleep, and with
cataplexy the animal is alert but can't follow motion with eye
movements. The pet can be aroused with petting, external stimuli,
and loud noises. These disorders are not curable.
Older cats may also experience behavior changes in sleep cycles
or waking in the night, restlessness and pacing. This is either
related to senility or a disease called Hyperthyroidism.
"Hyperthyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland produces an
excess amount of thyroid hormone which can lead to cardiac disease
and high blood pressure," said Crist. "A specific thyroid blood
test can be checked to verify this abnormality and treatment can be
initiated. Melatonin, an internal hormone secreted by the pineal
gland during darkness, can also be given as an oral supplement
usually with minimal side effects as a potential treatment for
Of course, there are several things that pet owners can do for
their pets before their sleeping disorders become too severe.
"If owners notice their pet having a change in their sleeping
pattern they want to take them to their veterinarian for a complete
physical examination and laboratory analysis," said Crist. "Medical
problems may contribute to these disturbances and some medicines
may need to be prescribed by a veterinarian to help combat their
"While melatonin has been useful for treating sleep disorders
that arise from hypothyroidism, senility, or cognitive
dysfunction," said Crist, "it is not regulated by the FDA, so ask a
veterinarian the correct dose for your pet. Acupuncture and herbal
medications are other modalities that might be used to treat sleep
disorders in pets."
Placing your pet on certain diets can also aid in their sleeping
"Omega 3 fatty acids and diets that are enriched with
antioxidants are good for dogs with cognitive dysfunction and sleep
issues," said Crist. "Therapeutic diets supplemented with
antioxidants such as vitamin C, mixed tocopherols, beta-carotene,
flavenoids, carotenoids, and omega-3 fatty acids had dogs show
improvement on the performance of cognitive tasks than dogs on a
It will always be a true mystery whether or not pets dream.
"In mammals and birds, studies have shown that long episodes of
nondreaming sleep referred to as "slow-wave" or SW sleep is
followed by short episodes of dreaming sleep referred to as
"rapid-eye-movement" or REM sleep," said Crist. "If a disturbance
in this pattern occurs then sleeping problems can begin. However,
we will never really know if pets dream because we cannot talk to
them. However, we do know that dogs have the REM sleep phase and
this is the dream activity period in people. Dogs do have leg
movements, facial twitching, vocalizations, and tail movements.
Therefore, it might be likely they are having a dream."
Crist mentioned that it is important to know some sleep
disorders require a lengthy behavioral consultation and examination
by a veterinarian. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor
antidepressants should be prescribed for these dogs and cats who
have diagnosed obsessive-compulsive behavior disorders that are
disturbing their sleeping patterns. She also reminded that by
always taking our pets to the veterinarian for their regular
check-up, many potential problems can be caught before they
seriously affect your pet's health.
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