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Why Is My Donkey Lying Down All The Time?

Imagine going out to feed your donkeys, and your heart drops when you see one of them lying on the ground. What could be wrong? Is this an emergency?

There are several reasons your donkey may be lying down. He may be just sleeping, suffering from arthritis, laminitis, colic, injury, or heat stroke.

It can be scary when your animal is ill and can’t get up. Knowing what is affecting him will help you get the treatment he needs. 

Read on to learn why donkeys lie down, the possible causes, and how severe the condition may be.

Common Reasons Your Donkey is Lying Down

There are two circumstances when your donkey is lying down where it’s not life-threatening. 

People unfamiliar with donkeys and horses may not know that they sleep by lying on their side. 

This is illustrated by a true story of a friend who owned four horses:  A woman with a crying child knocked on his door and told him that his horses were dead. 

He went outside and whistled, and all the horses looked up. The woman and child were shocked and relieved that the horses were not dead but just sleeping lying down.


While donkeys mostly sleep standing up, they will lie down when they feel entirely safe to do so. On average, they spend about three hours sleeping every day, including 30 minutes of REM sleep.

Equine can sleep lightly while standing. However, to enter the much-required REM sleep, they need to lie down (either on their side or with their legs tucked under them). 

REM sleep doesn’t have to be obtained all at once; those 30 minutes can be in short bursts of time throughout the day and night.

Foals lie down frequently to sleep because, just like human babies, they need a lot of sleep when growing.

There is a sleeping habit that is not normal, though. Hypersomnia is when donkeys sleep lying down much more than the usual 30 minutes per day. 

This can be caused by a neurological issue, West Nile Virus, Cushing’s disease, or equine protozoal myeloencephalitis (EPM). Your veterinarian will need to do tests to determine the cause and treatment for this.


Elderly donkeys can develop arthritis, making it painful to stand and get up, and they may prefer to lie down. 

Arthritis is common in old donkeys (age 20 years and older). It is a degenerative disease of the joints and causes pain, stiffness, and inflammation. 

This can make getting up, lying down, and walking difficult. Pain and anti-inflammatory medications can help. 

Contact your veterinarian to determine if this is why your donkey prefers lying down to standing. He will do a full-body exam and take x-rays to make a diagnosis.

More Serious Reasons

Serious Reasons Your Donkey is Lying Down

There may be some slightly more dangerous conditions than usual and may require a call to your veterinarian.


If your donkey is lying down frequently to take the weight off the inflamed hoof, it could be a sign of laminitis. Another sign of laminitis is when the donkey takes shorter steps or shifts weight from one foot to the others.

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Laminitis, also called “founder,” is inflammation of the laminae, which are tissues responsible for holding the hoof wall to the foot inside the hoof. 

Due to this inflammation, the pedal bone in the foot becomes unstable and can rotate inside the hoof. This causes excruciating pain and can be life-threatening.

This condition is usually caused by eating grain, alfalfa, grass, or starch. Donkeys should be fed grass hay.


Although horses often lie down when suffering from colic, donkeys don’t always do that. Other symptoms that may signal colic in donkeys that are lying down are:

  • Rapid breathing
  • Raised heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Gums or inside the eyelid are red

As with laminitis, colic also is usually caused by diet. Grass hay is the best food for donkeys.

Physical Injury

If your donkey is bleeding or has cuts, scrapes, or swelling, he may not be able to get up due to this injury. Deep cuts could have damaged muscles or tendons. Does it look as if a leg is broken?

Be careful around him if he’s in pain, as you might get bitten or kicked.

How severe the injury looks will determine whether it’s an emergency or not. If you’re not sure, contact your veterinarian. 

If the cuts don’t seem very deep, you can assist your donkey in getting up so you can treat his wounds. You will find guidance on this in the later sections of this article.

Heat Stroke

If the weather has been very hot and humid, your donkey could be suffering from heat stroke. Symptoms include:

  • Significant sweating or not sweating at all
  • Hot skin
  • Increased heart rate
  • Rapid breathing
  • Dehydration
  • Fatigue
  • High temperature
  • Gums feel dry or tacky
  • Eyes appear sunken

Do not hose your donkey down with cold water. You can apply cool water with a sponge or towel. Offer small amounts of water to drink. 

Get him into the shade if you can get him up. 


If you see your donkey collapse to the ground, he obviously needs immediate attention. This could be due to weakness resulting from disease, trauma, or heat stroke.

When Should a Donkey Owner Be Concerned?

When Should a Donkey Owner Be Concerned

If the conditions above don’t seem to apply and he still won’t or isn’t able to get up, observe your donkey closely so you can see any other symptoms. In this way, you will have as many details as possible to relay to your veterinarian.

Have your vet come out right away for an examination. Any reason other than sleeping or arthritis is an urgent condition. Bloodwork and other tests may be required to determine what’s wrong.

While waiting for the veterinary team to arrive, you can make your donkey more comfortable by placing something soft under his head to protect his eye that’s on the ground. If it’s very cold, put a blanket over him.

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What to Do if My Donkey Keeps Lying Down

What to Do if My Donkey Keeps Lying Down

It will help your veterinarian if you can give him as much detail as you can about your donkey’s health before he comes out. 

By checking vital signs and eyelid and gum color, you will have essential data so your vet can better understand the situation.

It may not be easy or possible to check all of these. If your donkey is in pain, he may try to bite or kick when you touch him. Be safe and do what you can to have the most information to report. 

Check Your Donkey’s Vital Signs

If you can, check the temperature, pulse, and respiration. Average and normal ranges for each are:

AdultUnder 2 Years
Temperatureaverage 98.8F, range 97.2-100average 99.6F, range 97.8-102.1
Pulseaverage 44, range 36-68average 60, range 44-80
Respirationaverage 20, range 12-44average 28, range 16-48

A high temperature means your donkey has a fever and can also mean he’s in pain. If it’s too low, put a blanket on him.

Feel the pulse on the inside of the jaw. Higher than normal can suggest your donkey is in distress, and slower may mean weakness or pain.

Rapid breathing can indicate pain, and slow breathing can signal weakness.

Check Eyelids and Gums

Check the color of the eyelids. If you peel back the lower eyelid, is the color pink, red, or yellow? Pink is healthy.

Look at his gums. Raise the lip and press a finger on his gums. Observe how long it takes for the pink color to return.

Evaluate Your Donkey’s Condition

You need to call your veterinarian right away if any of the above are out of the healthy range, the color of the eyelids or gums is not good, or your donkey seems to be in pain.

Assisting Your Donkey to Get Up

If the results of the above tests are good or if your donkey is rolling and trying to stand up, you can try to assist him in getting up.

Enlist someone to help you. If you can’t get anyone, then call your veterinarian for advice. It can be dangerous to do this by yourself.

  1. Put a halter and lead on your donkey. 
  2. Rock him side to side by grabbing hold of the mane.
  3. Have your helper hold the lead and stand by the head. Then encourage your donkey to get up, pulling the lead forward.
  4. Get out of the way so neither of you gets stepped on.

Final Thoughts

Donkeys lie down to nap and sleep. Usually, they will do this for short periods of time throughout the day and night. 

If he’s been down for a while and doesn’t appear to be sleeping, this indicates a problem. Watch him and his behavior to see what symptoms you can observe.

Donkeys are stoic animals and do not show pain as readily as horses. So, it’s important to know your animal’s normal behavior and habits so you recognize when he’s unwell.

Learning the different reasons donkeys lie down will prepare you if yours becomes ill and can’t get up. You can determine whether it’s a medical emergency, and you need to call your veterinarian right away.