Ask the Vet – Sleep deprivation in horses


SARAH: “I’m hoping
you can help to shed some light on a problem
I’ve been coping with for about six years.” You’re a patient woman. “I have a soon to be
27-year-old Trakehner. He has a 12 by 12
stall with shavings and he’s turned out
for eight hours a day. He’s an alpha
personality in his herd. Here’s the problem. He frequently falls asleep
while standing and then nearly falls down.” I’ve known horses like this. “It’s very disturbing
to see this and he will do it
several times in an hour. He does this in his
stall and during turnout. He’s never done it while
under saddle or in cross ties, so I doubt it’s narcolepsy.” Interesting. “He rolls every single
day in the pasture so I know he’s not afraid
of getting himself back to a standing position. I wonder if this is
sleep deprivation? If so, how can I fix it? How can I keep him safe? DR LYDIA GRAY: That’s
an interesting question. I’ve had it before. I think the first
important thing is to define clearly narcolepsy
from sleep deprivation. Narcolepsy is a chronic,
long term, rare, and most importantly
incurable, sleep disorder of the central nervous system. And it’s characterized by loss
of muscle strength and tone suddenly. The medical term is cataplexy. And one thing I learned
in researching this one– I always try to
think of ways to say things that are memorable
and easy, like simple. And so for this one I have “all
individuals with narcolepsy have excessive
daytime sleepiness.” SARAH: OK. DR LYDIA GRAY: “But
not all individuals with excessive daytime
sleepiness have narcolepsy. OK. So sleep deprivation, I think
a 1/3 of humans have this, and horses have it too, because
they do require REM sleep. People think, oh, they
sleep standing up. They doze standing
up, but they sleep, the REM sleep that you need
to recharge your brain, has to be laying down. Now she said she’s
seen her horse roll, so he gets down and gets up. There’s four causes of
sleep deprivation in horses. And she described it well. When he gets he gets
drowsy and then he buckles, a leg buckles and it
partially collapses. And like she said,
we’ve all seen it. You know, like what’s going on? She has ruled out – one of the
causes of sleep deprivation is pain associated. It’s usually an
older horse that can no longer get down and get back
up so they can’t sleep anymore. And after about a
week of not sleeping, you begin to see signs. And so they sort of
get lulled into sleep. But she noted, it doesn’t
happen on the cross ties or when she’s grooming
or saddling or something. Or when she is riding,
that’d be dangerous. But a lot of horses, when
they’re on the cross-ties and are feeling safe and
their owner is rubbing on him, you know with these
gloves, they get drowsy and they head into the
first phase of real sleep. And then they buckle and
they wake themselves up. It doesn’t sound like that’s
happening with this guy. So that’s the second one is
the monotony associated sleep deprivation. The one that might be,
and again, we always say talk to your
vet because you have to make sure this
isn’t true narcolepsy or that it’s not
some other condition. But the one that it
sounds like to me is the dominance associated
sleep deprivation. She said he’s an alpha horse. If he’s the alpha horse
in a herd, he’s in charge. All the time. SARAH: And he’s 27. That’s exhausting. DR LYDIA GRAY: It’s exhausting. And he can never
completely relax because who’s in charge then? Who’s watching out for the
whatever, wolves or bears? Or I don’t know what
they have there. SARAH: Or the extra hay. Got to keep an eye out for that. DR LYDIA GRAY: Yeah,
so in those cases if that’s what it is,
what resolves them– and again, this is how you
define that narcolepsy, which is sometimes treated by
drugs but it’s incurable. You can cure sleep deprivation
by providing an old cranky mare. Because they’re in
charge, doesn’t matter if you’re an alpha gelding. Old mares are in charge. And then when she’s in charge,
he can relax and finally get– and they only need like an
hour or two, maybe three hours, sleep a day. Real sleep. That’s my suggestion. I think she should talk
it over to her vet. The thing I’m not
supposed to forget is that there is a
vet who studies this. He’s been studying
it for a long time and he’s where I get
all my information from. Dr. Joe Bertone is at
the Western University in one of the new vet schools. I got an email from him
today, because I checked. He wants to hear
about these cases. He wants people to contact
him and tell him his stories. He may be doing a research
project, I don’t know. But he said say
his email address and put it on the screen. So it’s [email protected] SARAH: We’ll put it
right on the screen. DR LYDIA GRAY: We’ll
put it on the screen because I may have
messed that up. It’s an ongoing something
that’s being studied. It’s relatively
newly recognized. We don’t have all the facts. We’re piecing it
out more and more. She’s clearly done her homework
because she knew it’s not pain, it’s not this. It might be that
dominance factor. But talk to Dr. Bertone
and I think he might really be able to help you. SARAH: Based on how
much research she’s done and then that she’s
submitted the question here, I feel like you should be
honored that you are who people turn to when Google fails them. This is very exciting. This is a prestigious honor. DR LYDIA GRAY: OK.


3 Responses

  1. amq equestrian

    June 21, 2018 11:35 pm

    Sorry Smartpak, I unsubscribed. There just wasn’t fun videos, I’m not enjoying it at all

  2. mia animals150

    June 22, 2018 1:47 am

    these videos are super helpful and I like them but you should add a fun video every once in a while but I love your videos

  3. Mary Bohn

    October 8, 2019 6:17 pm

    This was super helpful! My mare has experienced sleep deprivation twice this year. The first was when her older field mate left the farm & she was alone for a few days and the second, more recent, was after a weekend of a huge bicyclist event that was passing our farm. She's a SUPER dominant mare so I think having to 'protect' her girls all weekend really stressed her out!


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