Dog with rare sleeping disorder sent home after unique diagnosis at UF’s Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital

Published: February 13th, 2001

Category: Health, Research, Veterinary

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — As an 8-week-old golden retriever puppy, Dreyfus would paddle his little paws while he slept.

“We thought it was really cute,” said Boca Raton investment banker Scott Crane.

But soon the adorable motion turned to thrashing so violent it would keep the whole household awake. Nearly five years after the odd sleeping syndrome began, University of Florida veterinarians have diagnosed the dog’s problem as a rare case of rapid eye movement behavior disorder.

“When he dreams, he goes ballistic,” Crane said of his dog. “Over the past couple of years it’s gotten really bad. He bangs walls, he has knocked over furniture and he has kicked me in the head.”

Dreyfus is being treated with a medication that has been found effective in people who have the condition. The drug, which UF veterinarians expect to be effective, has been used to control seizures in dogs but never to manage this condition.

In normal sleep, the major muscle groups experience a kind of paralysis. In this rare and only recently recognized condition, the paralysis never takes hold, leading to the high-action slumber.

To determine the cause of the problem, the dog recently spent two nights at UF’s Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital hooked up to wires and transmitters.

“Since sleep studies aren’t routinely performed in veterinary practice, we collaborated with Dr. Robin Gilmore from Shands at UF’s Center for Sleep Studies to conduct a test known as polysomnography on Dreyfus,” said Cheryl Chrisman, a veterinary neurologist and professor of small animal clinical sciences at UF.

Polysomnography measures brain wave activity, muscle tone, eye movements and heart and respiration rates during first-stage sleep and during the second stage of sleep commonly known as rapid eye movement sleep. Administered in Dreyfus’ case along with other tests to rule out brain disease, polysomnography confirmed the diagnosis of REM behavior disorder.

While known to affect humans, the affliction has previously been documented only through observation in dogs.

“Movements may be so violent that the human or animal is propelled out of bed or across the floor,” Chrisman wrote in a 1999 review article on sleep disorders of dogs and cats. “Humans have bludgeoned their spouses in the middle of the night acting out their dreams of fighting off a predator.”

Chrisman said the UF veterinary teaching hospital receives a few complaints each year from people who claim to have pets with sleeping disorders. Yet the hospital has never before had opportunity to study such an animal through the use of polysoneography.

“Only a few cases a year are recognized in dogs, and many are likely overlooked as a variation of normal,” Chrisman said. “The owners have been complaining about this for three years and were told, ‘All dogs do this.’”

Most dogs have some minor movements of paws and may twitch during sleep or slightly paddle. Dreyfus, however, violently moves his limbs, cries loudly and makes other distressed sounds.

The family has placed pillows against walls throughout the house and around anywhere the dog might try to sleep.

“Any person with two young children and a marriage would be affected by lack of sleep,” Crane said. “I speak to around 300 people a day and I need my sleep to do my job. Dreyfus’ condition has definitely affected our family life.”

Even babysitters are affected, he said.

“If we happen to forget to tell a babysitter about Dreyfus’ tendencies, they describe him as having an epileptic attack,” Crane said. “It can be quite scary to them, because they are caught in a position of not knowing if there is something wrong with the dog.”

Despite his frustration, Crane stressed that Dreyfus is a beloved pet who is the most mild-mannered dog he has ever known.

“Most of all, we’ve been scared for Dreyfus’ own well being,” Crane said. “He’s never bitten anyone. He’s just a well-behaved animal who happens to have a sleeping disorder.”

Chrisman said UF veterinarians will be adjusting Dreyfus’ medication and the dose administered to determine maximum effectiveness.

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Writer
Sarah Carey

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