Donkey Care

Donkey body condition check
Wendy Osborn, Donkey Guardian


Health & Welfare

DONKEY SANCTUARY MASTER LOGO CMYK_v2 redThe Donkey Sanctuary Health & Welfare Excellent online resources from the Donkey Sanctuary with links to the Donkey Care Handbook, feeding and nutritional advice, training courses, DVDs and fact sheets on all aspects of donkey care including: foaling, winter care, clipping, colic, dental and foot care, transport, elderly donkeys, laminitis, worming, wounds and understanding behaviour.  

Understanding Donkey Behaviour The Donkey Sanctuary.

DEFRA Code of Practice Welfare guidelines for owners of equines, including donkeys, published by The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) in 2009. These include ensuring that equines have a suitable environment to live in, a healthy diet, are able to behave normally, have appropriate company and are protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease. 

Comportamiento Natural Del Burro Mauro Madariaga, Equine Behaviour Specialist at The Donkey Sanctuary. Spanish article on Natural Donkey Behaviour.

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The Five Freedoms 

The Five Freedoms outline five aspects of animal welfare under human control. They were developed in response to a 1965 UK Government report on livestock husbandry, and were formalized in 1979 press statement by the UK Farm Animal Welfare Council. The Five Freedoms have been adopted by professional groups including veterinarians, and organizations including the World Organisation for Animal Health, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The five freedoms as currently expressed are:

  1. Freedom from hunger or thirst by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigour
  2. Freedom from discomfort by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area 
  3. Freedom from pain, injury or disease by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment
  4. Freedom to express (most) normal behaviour by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal’s own kind
  5. Freedom from fear and distress by ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering

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Donkey Enrichment

Enrichment Ideas for Donkeys
Donkeys with willow log and treat bucket, RSPCA Lockwood

Environmental enrichment helps donkeys in our care to carry out their natural behaviours, providing mental stimulation and physical activity vital to their health and well-being. Here are 10 easy, fun and inexpensive enrichment ideas for donkeys:

  1. Take an old bucket and drill some holes in the bottom. Place donkey treats inside it and hang it from the barn ceiling (or other high place where there is room for it to swing). Trying to get the treats out of the bucket will keep your donkeys amused for hours!
  2. Donkeys love stripping the bark from willow logs. Older donkeys often enjoy eating the leaves as they contain naturally occurring aspirin. Other trees that are non-poisonous to donkeys are beech, hazel and ash.
  3. Donkeys are very nimble. Place logs or other obstacles on the ground where they walk for them to step over. You may need to lead your donkeys gently around the obstacle before walking them over it. This helps to build trust and increase their confidence.
  4. Hide treats in old cardboard boxes (removing any staples first), rubber tyres, wellington boots or piles of willow branches, so they have to ‘forage’ to find them.
  5. Rubber buckets, tyres or boots make popular tug toys, especially for male donkeys, as do pieces of cotton rope tied in knots (about the size of a tug toy for a large dog).
  6. Leave a choice of mineral licks around the barn or shelter so your donkeys can select essential oils and minerals according to their needs, much as they would in the wild.
  7. Donkeys are very inquisitive and they like to investigate new smells. Equine play balls can be scented with peppermint or ginger to make them more interesting.
  8. Steam hay with peppermint infused water or leave out buckets of cold herbal tea. They like sweet flavours such as raspberry and will sniff, lick or drink it.
  9. Carve little wells in willow logs and fill with treats or scented oils.
  10. Equine play balls or yoga balls provide plenty of amusement for donkeys. They are best slightly deflated so that they can lift them. For some reason they also love orange traffic cones!

Remember: Make sure toys are safe for donkeys and not likely to cause injury. Remove sharp or metal parts and don’t allow your donkeys to eat anything that is harmful to them. Always consider the age and physical health of your donkeys.

Thanks to: Alice Robinson, RSPCA Lockwood Centre for Donkeys and Horses.

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Donkey Hoof Care

Donkey Hoof Checks
Mark Kerr, Donkey Welfare Adviser, carrying out hoof checks

Picking Your Donkey’s Hooves

To pick your donkey’s hooves, run your hands gently down towards the hoof, to give him time to prepare to lift the hoof. Keep the leg you’re lifting level with and under the body to help the donkey balance. Pick out the dirt between the frog and the sole with a hoof pick, moving the pick from the top of the hoof down towards the middle. Remove any stones from the white line and use the brush part of the hoof pick to remove any remaining dirt.

A donkey’s hooves should be picked out daily and this is a good opportunity to check for signs of White Line Infection (Seedy Toe), Laminitis, Abscesses, Thrush and overgrown hooves. See Hoof Problems.

How do donkeys’ hooves differ from horses’? 

“Compared with horses hooves, donkeys hooves are oval rather than round; more upright and more elastic; thicker soled; and with a frog extending out behind the coffin bone. The hoof needs to be trimmed so that the ground surface of the coffin bone is pretty much parallel to the ground; and the hoof wall is trimmed to be level with the sole plane, with the frog in contact with the ground.” The Donkey Society of Western Australia

Examples of correctly trimmed donkey hooves:

Correctly Trimmed Donkey Hooves
Photos: Rachel Karneffel, Donkey Trainer, Foghorn Farm Donkey Training, USA
Donkey Hooves Well Trimmed
Photo: Lauren Lesko Paytes, Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue, USA

Donkeys need their hooves trimming every 6-10 weeks and it’s best to choose a farrier who is experienced with donkeys. See Donkey Vets for lists of recommended donkey farriers. 


Natural Care of Donkeys Teresa Ramsey, Natural Hoof. Article covering donkey’s hooves, the importance of water and hoof problems in donkeys. 

Donkey Foot Care – Notes for Farriers Alberta Donkey and Mule Club.

The Donkey’s Hoof David Familo, Horse Farrier

Donkey Foot Care – Notes for Farriers The Donkey Sanctuary Guide to trimming normal and overgrown feet and some of the common conditions and their treatments.

Donkey Hoof Disorders article, published by

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Donkey Dental Care

“A donkey has the same number of teeth as a horse. At a minimum they have 36 teeth, 6 molars on each side – top and bottom – for a total of 24 molars, and 6 incisors top and bottom at the front for a total of 12 incisors. They can also have up to 4 canine teeth (also called tusks or tushes) erupt, one on each side, top and bottom, in the space between the incisors and molars. They can also have up to 4 wolf teeth (also called premolars) erupt, one each at the front of each row of molars”. JC Dill, AFA Certified Farrier Equine expert

Donkey Dental Check
Donkey Dental Check

Donkey Dental Check 

Stand at eye level with the donkey and gently part his lips to check the front teeth, which should meet accurately in a horizontal line. Then gently push up the cheeks to check the back teeth using the palms of your hands. Check for any missing teeth, uneven, long, sharp or overhanging teeth and any gaps in between adjoining teeth.

Signs of dental problems include weight loss, difficulty eating, poor digestion, bad breath, nasal discharge, food collecting around the teeth, head tilting, tooth grinding and changes in behaviour such as irritability or becoming withdrawn.

Mark Kerr, Donkey Welfare Adviser for The Donkey Sanctuary finds plaque buildup on this donkey’s tooth. The dentist can file this off:

All donkeys should have their teeth regularly checked by an appropriate professional. It is important that they are checked soon after birth to identify any serious problems. From then on it is recommended that all donkeys are checked twice annually, as their teeth shed, erupt and wear at a rapid rate whilst young. For geriatric donkeys, it is probable that dental check ups will be needed more frequently. It is highly recommended that you consult either an Equine Dental Technician or Veterinarian who has gained the BEVA/BAEDT qualifications. Do not wait until your donkey loses weight, has difficulty or stops eating, or develops malodorous breath; dental problems are likely to be severe in these cases.” The Donkey Sanctuary.

This is Sussex-based Equine Dental Technician Penny Brownings carrying out a routine dental treatment:

The dentist places a metal gag (dental speculum) on the donkey so that they can reach right inside the mouth. They wash the mouth out to get rid of any food. After rinsing, they feel around the mouth, checking for lumps, bumps, swelling and fractured or sharp teeth. Here, Penny uses a motorised rasp with a diamond chip disc to file down any sharp points and finishes with a manual flat blade. 

Donkeys’ teeth continue growing throughout their life. Unless they eat lots of tough, woody fibre (as they were designed to) it is likely that they will need their teeth filing down regularly. Sharp points can cause painful ulcers in the mouth. Donkeys are stoic and may not show signs of pain but it is dangerous for them to stop eating. They are trickle feeders and periods of hunger can lead to hyperlipaemia, so it’s very important to look after your donkeys’ teeth.


Dental Care Information for Owners The Donkey Sanctuary

British Association of Equine Dental Technicians Member List 2016

See Donkey Vets for lists of recommended donkey dentists. 

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Medical Emergencies in Donkeys 


Professional donkey trainer Rachel Karneffel lists things to look out for in donkeys, which may require urgent medical attention: 

1.Any deep cut or gash.
2.Cuts over or near eyes or joints.
3.Lameness, especially acute lameness (unless you know it is an abscess and can deal with it yourself).
4.Difficulty breathing or swallowing. Coughing more than a couple of times.
5.Any mucous in copious amounts or not clear in color.
6.Eye squinting/ excessive watering.
7.ANY concern with a foal or dam.
8.High temperature, excessive sweating not involving exercise.
9.Shaking/shivering excessively (if does not warm up when blanketed or brought indoors).
11.Listelessness/not wanting to eat.
12Laying down excessively or rolling excessively. (know your animal…some are lazier and like to sleep more than others).
13.Tenderness on feet, especially on the fronts and leaning back away from the pain.
14.Any object lodged IN a hoof capsule/bleeding from hoof.
15. Straining to urinate or poop.
16. Acting very stiff all over.
18. Holding body hunched up, stiff and uncomfortable.
19. ANY animal bites.
20. Large bumps or lumps. Edema on belly or on genitals.

“Some of these are not emergencies IF and only IF you know your donkey well. For instance, I had a donkey that would regularly go three legged lame. I knew it was an abscess and I could take care of it myself. I also had a donkey who would get bitten by bugs and swell up to big bumps on her belly. It wasn’t an emergency, but I already knew what to do.” Rachel Karneffel at Foghorn Farm Donkey Training

See Donkey Vets for lists of recommended donkey vets.

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Feeding Donkeys

Feeding Donkeys
Donkey tea time at Lockwood Centre for Donkeys and Horses

Donkeys originated in the desert. They have extremely efficient digestive systems and easily gain weight on lush green pasture. All donkeys require a diet that is high in fibre and low in sugar and starch. They are natural grazers and need to be able to eat small amounts throughout the day. Periods of hunger can lead to hyperlipaemia and eating large amounts in one go can cause colic. Little and often is best. Being overweight can lead to a host of serious health problems, including laminitis (founder), arthritis, liver disease and metabolic disorders.

Donkeys need a diet of straw, topped up with grass or hay/haylage, supplementary vitamins and minerals and clean water. Barley Straw is ideal as it is less fibrous and easier to chew than wheat straw and has fewer calories than oat straw. If straw is unavailable, The Donkey Sanctuary suggests haylage such as High Fibre or Timothy Horshage and for donkeys with poor teeth, 2-3kg per day of Mollichaf Donkey. An unmolassed equine specific vitamin or mineral/salt lick (or granules) should be accessible at all times. Clean water that is not too cold must always be available.

If added vitamins, minerals and micronutrients are required, for example, if your donkey is on very restricted grazing and eating mainly straw and hay, you can feed a small daily amount of balancer, such as TopSpec Donkey Forage Balancer. For a straw only diet, The Donkey Sanctuary recommnends Top Spec Donkey Forage Balancer fed at 100g per 100 kg bodyweight per day. 

If your donkey is underweight, overweight, dropping partially-chewed food, not eating or showing any signs of being unwell, please consult a professional equine vet and dentist in order to rule out or treat any underlying medical conditions. Any changes you do make to your donkey’s diet must be made gradually. 


What Should I Feed My Donkeys? Donkey Care Q&A

What Treats Can I Give My Donkeys? Donkey Care Q&A

The Donkey Companion Sue Weaver (Storey Publishing, 2008)

The Complete Book of the Donkey Elisabeth D Svendsen MBE (Kenilworth Press, 2009)

Feeding Donkeys A Donkey Diary

What to Feed Your Donkeys The Donkey Sanctuary 

Feeding Donkeys The Donkey Sanctuary

Care of the Miniature Donkey Quater Moon Ranch

Feed Guide Donkey Land 

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Plants and trees that are poisonous to donkeys

Sycamore Seeds

Plants to avoid: Black Bryony, Black Nightshade, Bracken, Buttercup, Celandine, Charlock, Columbine, Cowbane, Deadly Nightshade, Foxglove, Ground Ivy, Hellebore, Hemlock Water Dropwort, Holly Berries, Horsetail (Mare’s tail), Ivy, Larkspur, Lily of the Valley, Linseed, Meadow Saffron, Monkshood, Potato, Privet, Ragwort, Rhododendron, St John’s Wort, Spurge, White Bryony, Woody Nightshade

Trees to avoid: Black Walnut, Elder, Horse Chestnut, Laburnum, Laurel, Laurel Cherry, Leylandii, Oak, Plum, Peach, Red Maple, Sycamore, Wild Cherry, Yew

Yellow Ragwort
Yellow Ragwort Photo:

Yellow Ragwort

Yellow Ragwort is highly poisonous. If you have it on your land, it should be pulled at rosette stage and dug out by the root. Wear gloves or your skin will absorb the toxins. If you have lots there’s not much you can do but keep an eye on it and pull it out regularly. It tastes bitter to donkeys so they probably won’t show much interest in it if there is other food available. If there’s nothing else to eat and they’re hungry they might eat some. One tiny bit won’t do any harm but over time it will have an accumulative effect. There may not be any obvious symptoms initially as the damage is internal but it can eventually cause liver failure and be fatal. Donkeys are famously stoic but if they are off their food or sullen it could be a sign that they are unwell. 


Poisonous Plants Factsheet The Donkey Sanctuary

Sycamore Poisoning The Donkey Sanctuary

Toxic and Non-Toxic Plant List ASPCA

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Worming Your Donkey

Equines are prone to different types of worm, which emerge at different times of the year. Therefore worming checks are required every few months. To check for roundworm, a feacal egg count is carried out. You can send a dung sample to your vet, who will charge around £10, or to The Donkey Sanctuary, who will check it for free.

You may need to separate your donkeys for a few hours before collecting dung so that you can be sure which dung belongs to which donkey. Wearing rubber gloves, take a small pinch from a few nuggets from each donkey to get a good cross section. Once the faecal count is done, your vet will advise you on what, if any, worming treatment is needed, although it will cheaper to do the actual worming yourself.

Tests often come back negative and it is not advisable to administer worming treatment that is not needed as this will build up resistance. It’s not possible to test for Tapeworm so worming for this is required for every 6 months. Worms are more prevalent in spring, summer and autumn. In winter the cold tends to kill them off. The ideal time for testing is going into winter and going into spring. 


Guide to Worming Your Donkey The Donkey Sanctuary 

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Monitoring Your Donkey’s Weight

Donkey Body Condition Check


Body Condition Check 

Use your hands to check the neck, sides, back and hindquarters for overall body condition. Feels for prominence of bones, muscle development, skin condition, irregular fatty deposits and any unusual lumps and bumps which may require further investigation.

Donkey Heart Girth Measurement
Mark Kerr carrying out a Heart Girth Measurement

Heart Girth Measurement 

Pass the tape measure around the girth area of the donkey near the heart at the back of the front legs, to monitor the donkey’s weight. An increase or decrease in measurement of 1 cm equates to approximately 5 kilos of weight. An average donkey in the UK weighs about 180kg.


Monitoring Your Donkey’s Weight and Condition The Donkey Sanctuary

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Donkey Passports

Donkey Passport
Donkey Breed Society Equine Passport



“Horses, ponies, donkeys, mules and zebras must have an equine passport, even if they never leave their field. This is applicable across the United Kingdom. The legislation states that owners or keepers with the primary responsibility for the care of the horse, have a legal duty to ensure that the horse is correctly identified.” British Horse Society


Donkey Breed Society Passport Information

British Horse Society Passport Information

Government Passport Information



Every equine in France must hold a valid passport issued or overstamped by the HARAS NATIONAUX.


Equine Rescue France Passport Information

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Please note: The information on this page is not a substitute for individual professional advice. For matters relating to the health and wellbeing of your donkey, you should always consult a qualified vet.

Copyright 2016 Amy Swift