I received a frantic call from a neighbor while I was at work the other day. They were 100% percent sure that one of our mini donkeys had died. Obviously, I frantically rushed home to find out what had happened and what needed to be done to make sure all of our other animals were safe and away from harm. Halfway home, the phone rang again, this time to let me know the donkey was up and walking around, doing just fine, and getting a drink of water as if nothing was wrong. It turns out, nothing at all was wrong, my miniature sized friend was just taking a nap. I still continued home and made sure everything was fine. This whole debacle got me wondering: Why do some animals sleep standing up vs. laying down, and do all mini donkeys occasionally sleep laying down?
Do mini donkeys sleep laying down or standing up? Yes, miniature donkeys will occasionally lay down when they sleep. Mini donkeys will sleep standing up most of the time, but they will lay down when they are feeling 100% safe. One of the oddest things about mini donkeys (and other equine and livestock for that matter, like normal sized donkeys, horses, cattle even giraffe) is that they sleep standing up most of the time. Throughout evolution, these animals have developed a special ability to lock their legs in a specific standing position, without stressing muscles to keep them fixed in the standing position. This “stay apparatus” (as defined by Atlanta Equine.com) as a way for animals to sleep standing up in case they had to quickly escape a predator.
Oddly, mini donkeys do not have the ability to fall into R.E.M. sleep while they are standing up. For full R.E.M sleep, a mini donkey will either need to be laying down on its side or laying chest-down. R.E.M. sleep causes the miniature donkey to lose all control over its leg muscles – meaning it will actually collapse if the donkey enters R.E.M. sleep while standing up!
Unlike humans, mini donkeys do not require a lot of R.E.M. sleep. 30-45 minutes a day is enough to keep your mini donkey alert and awake for 24 hours, but it is very important. Also unlike humans, the mini donkey does not need continuous R.E.M. sleep to get it rejuvenated. A mini donkey may experience R.E.M. a few minutes (sometimes even over a few seconds!) of time, numerous times throughout a 24 hour period.
What is R.E.M. Sleep?
R.E.M. sleep is known as Rapid Eye Movement. As humans, during the R.E.M. sleep cycle, we have dreams. I’m sure at some point you’ve seen (or at least heard stories about) a sleeping dog that is “chasing a car” or a “bunny.” This happens when a dog is in the rapid eye movement cycle of sleep. Mini Donkeys, while not quite so dramatic as a dog chasing a car, will enter R.E.M. sleep cycle for short bursts of time when they are laying down. You will notice the donkey twitch, small kicks occasionally the mini donkey will even wake itself up.
Why is R.E.M. Sleep is Important to a Miniature Donkey?
Studies of R.E.M. sleep suggest that the brain is highly active during the sleep cycle, which may play a huge role in intelligence. Biologists have not been able to pinpoint exactly why certain animals need more R.E.M. sleep than others.
Mini donkeys will twitch, run in place and even make vocal noises during their R.E.M. sleep cycle.
Other sleep disorders found in miniature donkeys
Sleep Deprivation in Mini Donkeys
If a mini donkey doesn’t feel safe in its environment it won’t be able to settle down and relax enough to get proper rest, which will eventually lead to sleep deprivation. Mini donkeys won’t show the side effects of lack of sleep as quickly as humans. A human will begin to act sluggish very quickly, and after a day or two, a human will be impaired in many ways. A mini donkey will not show signs of lack of sleep for upwards of a week – possibly even longer. Once the sleep deprivation catches up with the donkey, it will fall asleep unintentionally, even falling down when slipping into R.E.M. sleep.
There are a lot of things that can cause sleep deprivation in a mini donkey. Being in an unsheltered outdoor area that is open can cause nervousness and feeling a lack of safety. Mini donkeys feel the need to protect themselves from predators, which is another reason to keep them in pairs or groups. Mini donkeys will ultimately feel safety in numbers and not feel the need to stay awake for safety.
A mini in pain with arthritis or some other pain will not be apt to lie down comfortably enough to get sleep, or the animal may be afraid it won’t be able to get up quickly enough to escape a predator.
Be sure the stall the miniature donkey is housed in has enough space to comfortably lay in.
Mini Donkeys can have Narcolepsy
If you have ever witnessed a miniature donkey that falls asleep while performing some type of physical activity, it may suffer from narcolepsy. Typically, narcolepsy is found in young donkeys, and will often (but not always) be outgrown. Owners often misdiagnose a donkey that is sleep deprived as having narcolepsy; however, narcolepsy is actually quite a bit different as the donkey will not show any signs of physical exhaustion.
Hypersomnia (Mini Donkeys that Sleep Excessively)
Since mini donkeys don’t require a lot of sleep, a miniature donkey that sleeps excessively (especially during the day) may have a serious problem. A mini donkey that sleeps a lot needs to be closely observed to try and understand the reason for the excessive sleeping. It is important to understand if the donkey is sleep deprived, not sleep at night time, not getting any R.E.M. sleep, or not laying down. When we’ve experienced this in the past, we’ve used an outdoor trail cam to monitor the donkey’s sleep patterns. Luckily, our mini was in need of bed area adjustments and once we fixed them, the donkey slept fine and the problem went away.
If you have observed your miniature donkey and determined that it is sleeping significantly more than it should, there could be a possible neurological issue. Diseases such as West Nile Virus and equine protozoal myeloencephalitis (EPM) can sometimes be traced back as the causes of over sleeping. Cushing’s disease is an endocrine disorder that also has hypersomnia as a side effect.
Treatment for hypersomnia in mini donkeys is possible; however, specific treatment is dependent on the cause of the issue.