Caring for donkeys is hard work. A lot of effort goes into making sure a donkey remains healthy and happy – which is something to consider if you’re thinking about getting one. Below, we have outlined a basic guide for beginners on looking after donkeys. A lot more goes into caring for donkeys than what we’ve stated below, but it should give you an idea of what to expect. Always talk to a vet if you have questions or just to double check that you are doing everything correctly.
Choosing a donkey
Why are you getting a donkey? If it’s as a pet, you should opt for a castrated male (gelding) or a female (jenny). If you are looking to breed, you will need a male (jack) and one or more jennies. It isn’t wise to get a jack if you aren’t looking to breed as they can be difficult to look after.
Donkeys are very sociable creatures and, if you can, buying more than one should be highly considered. Donkeys can become sad when alone and having a companion will make them much happier. Two jennies, two geldings or a jenny and a gelding are all great options. You must remember that once your donkeys have been in the same pasture, they must not go anywhere without the other. This can cause huge distress and upset.
Furthermore, if a donkey passes away, the remaining donkey should always be left with the body so they can come to terms with what’s happened. If the deceased donkey is removed without the knowledge of the remaining donkey, they can become massively upset and distressed.
Where to keep a donkey
Caring for donkeys properly means ensuring that the conditions they live in are suitable for their needs. This is especially important in cold and wet climates.
A large grazing area
Your donkey will be happier with as much space as possible to roam and graze. They do this for most of the day, so it is super important that you are providing an adequate amount of space.
An alternative to a grass paddock is a dirt or non-grazing area, like a yard. However, in areas like this they must always have access to straw or alternative food as they like to nibble all day long.
Shelter away from wind and rain
Donkeys really struggle when they get wet, as their coats don’t cope well with water. Once the weather turns, donkeys will look for somewhere to escape, so a shelter is a necessity. It is important that the shelters have hard floors, as exposure to damp floors can have a negative impact on their hooves. Adding straw to the shelter will provide comfort and warmth, too.
Donkeys living in colder climates (like that of the UK) ideally need a barn in winter. The barn shouldn’t have any gaps. If it does, donkeys can catch chills from drafts fighting their way inside. The barn should also be big enough for the donkey to exercise in, as they may not want to go out and exercise in the bad weather.
Maintaining your donkey’s home
You must clean the donkey shelter at least every other day. This includes removing waste and spraying down the floor and walls. You must also make sure the shelter is completely dry before letting your donkey back in.
It’s also important that your outside pasture is protected with a sturdy fence. Donkeys may try to escape and they are strong, so a high-quality fence is a must. It should be as high as your donkey’s shoulders.
Food and drink
A donkey cannot be given just any scraps to eat. They must maintain a healthy diet, or they can become obese or subject to illness and disease. The following should be adhered to where possible.
A donkey’s main food source should be from a low sugar, high fibre diet – barley straw is a great example.
Owners should avoid giving donkeys oats, wheat and corn. This can cause disease and obesity.
Grass can be an additional source of food but shouldn’t make up the majority of the diet.
Donkeys must eat little and often. Munching on their foods all day is much better than providing them with two large meals in the morning and afternoon.
Do not allow donkeys to overeat. If you have a grass paddock, a safe electric fence can be used to cordon off an area so they don’t eat too much.
Only give donkeys treats that aren’t going to harm them – no leftovers of your meals, no meat (donkeys are vegetarian!), and no high processed or sugary snacks. Apples, bananas, carrots, pears, turnips and swedes are all safe treats for donkeys.
Sometimes supplements might be necessary – speak to your vet for a tailored approach.
Clean, fresh water should be available at all times. Make sure it doesn’t ice over or leak as water can damage hooves.
All feeding areas must be cleaned daily to lower the risk of worms.
Maintain a healthy lifestyle
Once a donkey’s home and diet are sorted, you must also take responsibility to ensure your donkey remains clean and healthy. Both new and experienced owners should check their donkeys for these five things on a daily basis:
Appetite and thirst
Faeces and urine
Eyes, nose and resting respiration (breathing)
Coat and skin
If any of these appear abnormal, contact a vet immediately.
To ensure your donkey lives as healthy life as possible, the following are also recommended:
Brush your donkey’s hair and clean their hooves every day. Donkeys don’t need baths – brushing and cleaning hooves should be sufficient if done properly and regularly.
Hooves should also be kept dry and trimmed every 6-8 weeks so they don’t grow too long and cause any problems.
Teeth must be examined yearly by an equine dentist. You should also keep a look out to see if everything appears okay and nothing in the mouth is bothering the donkey.
Vaccinations are extremely important and should be kept up to date. Your vet will be able to advise on what vaccinations your donkey needs.
Regular checks for worms are super important as they can be common within the species. Keeping habitats clear of waste is a way to prevent your donkey contracting worms.
Donkeys should always have the option to exercise. Their paddocks should be big enough for them to roam and, if kept inside in winter, the option to exercise should be presented daily.
Some donkeys may like to have a rug on their body for warmth. This must be replaced every day and owners should be on the lookout for rubs and sores.
As we mentioned, looking after donkeys is hard work. You should only invest in a donkey if you have the means and are prepared to give them a lot of love and attention. Many donkeys all over the world aren’t looked after properly, causing illness and disease that can lead to death.
Our vets at SPANA travel the world to treat donkeys and educate owners on how to look after them better. Find out more about the work we do and how you can help.