Tijdschrift voor diergeneeskunde1993; 118(23); 765-768;

[Narcolepsy in horses].

Abstract: Narcolepsy is an incurable non-progressive disease of the central nervous system. In humans, narcolepsy causes excessive drowsiness during the day (sometimes a sleep-attack occurs), cataplexy (sudden loss of muscle tone), hallucinations, and sleep paralysis. In the horse and other mammals cataplexy is the most frequently observed symptom. Excessive drowsiness can occur but is harder to observe. Cataplexy is caused by a fragmentation of the REM sleep. The etiology of narcolepsy is still subject to debate, partly because normal sleeping patterns are poorly understood. In humans and certain breeds of dogs a hereditary background has been demonstrated. In Shetland ponies the disease runs in certain families. The role of trauma and infection is the subject of debate. Cataplexy (which can be induced by physostigmine injection) confirms the diagnosis. Several drugs are available for the treatment of narcolepsy in humans. However there are a few data on the results of treatment of narcolepsy in the horse.
Publication Date: 1993-12-01 PubMed ID: 8273109
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This research article discusses narcolepsy in horses, examining the symptoms, causes, and potential treatments for this incurable disease.

Understanding Narcolepsy

  • The research article starts out by giving insights about narcolepsy, a persistent disease, affecting the central nervous system. It is prominent in humans but also affects other mammals, such as horses.
  • The condition induces excessive daytime sleepiness, cataplexy (an unexpected loss of muscle strength), hallucinations, and sleep paralysis in humans. Among these, cataplexy is the most frequently seen sign in horses and other mammals.
  • Excessive sleepiness can be presented in horses, but it is more challenging to recognize. According to the researchers, cataplexy results from the fragmentation of Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, a phase of sleep where the major part of dreaming occurs.

Etiology of Narcolepsy

  • The paper further analyzes the cause of narcolepsy which is still a topic of ongoing research, largely because the normal sleeping patterns are not fully comprehended.
  • In the case of humans and some dog breeds, it has been suggested that genetic factors play a significant part in the development of narcolepsy.
  • Particularly, in Shetland ponies, narcolepsy seems to be prevalent within certain families, implying a possibility of inheritance.
  • The role of trauma and infection in the onset of narcolepsy is currently disputed and forms a central issue in the field of narcolepsy research.

Diagnosis and Treatment

  • Cataplexy, which can be triggered by an injection of physostigmine, is the primary diagnostic element for narcolepsy in horses.
  • While several medications are available to manage the symptoms of narcolepsy in humans, the study highlights the scarcity of data on the effectiveness of those treatments in horses, emphasizing an area for future exploration.

Cite This Article

van Nieuwstadt RA, van der Want CJ, Binkhorst GJ. (1993). [Narcolepsy in horses]. Tijdschr Diergeneeskd, 118(23), 765-768.


ISSN: 0040-7453
NlmUniqueID: 0031550
Country: Netherlands
Language: dut
Volume: 118
Issue: 23
Pages: 765-768

Researcher Affiliations

van Nieuwstadt, R A
  • Vakgroep Inwendige Ziekten en Voeding der Grote Huisdieren, Faculteit Diergeneeskunde, Utrecht.
van der Want, C J
    Binkhorst, G J

      MeSH Terms

      • Animals
      • Horse Diseases / diagnosis
      • Horse Diseases / physiopathology
      • Horses
      • Narcolepsy / diagnosis
      • Narcolepsy / physiopathology
      • Narcolepsy / veterinary
      • Sleep / physiology


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