Brown donkey eating straw in stable

The most appropriate feed for donkeys is straw, hay and grass in moderation. Although you may not think it, horse and donkey dietary requirements are very different. Donkeys love to graze all day but will eat everything in sight if they can, so if you’re looking after donkeys, it’s important to feed them a healthy diet. Donkeys have a sweet tooth and can put on weight easily if they eat the wrong foods, or too much lush grass or rich hay, which can lead to potential health problems. We’ve compiled SPANA’s donkey diet advice to help inform you on the best food for donkeys.

What can donkeys eat?

Donkeys have incredible digestive systems and are able to survive in some of the harshest environments on earth, including deserts (see where in the world SPANA works with donkeys). Their stomachs easily break down foods so that they can absorb the maximum nutrition from what they do eat. Therefore, it’s important to feed them the right type of foods, otherwise your donkey could easily become overweight, as well as facing a higher risk of laminitis.

What to feed donkeys

They key thing to remember is that it’s much better for your donkey to eat throughout the day, rather than receive all their feed in one go. Do speak to your veterinarian for advice if your donkey is ill, elderly, a foal or a female donkey that is pregnant/feeding her foal, as the advice below is for the average healthy adult donkey.

Three grey donkeys eating straw at troughTop donkey feeds:

1. Straw

Barley straw is an ideal feed for your donkey. This is because donkeys need high fibre diets with a low amount of protein and carbohydrates. Make sure that fresh barley straw is available at all times wherever your donkey is during the day and at night. In terms of how much straw to feed your donkey, it needs to eat about 1.3–2 per cent of its body weight. Straw should be the main source of feed in the summer, making up approximately 75 per cent of all feed, and in the winter straw should be 50 per cent of a donkey’s feed. Wheat straw should only be given to younger donkeys with good teeth as it is more difficult to chew.

2. Hay and grass

The remainder of your donkey’s diet (25-50 per cent) should be grazing on grass, hay or haylage. Feeding on grass is great alongside straw for the majority of the year. In the winter and other colder months, donkeys should eat hay or haylage. Grass hay is a great feed, as it’s low in protein and good for your donkey’s teeth. Feed your donkey hay or haylage two to three times a day.

Donkey teeth

It is best not to feed straw or hay to a donkey with dental problems. This is because these feeds require significant chewing, which may be difficult for a donkey with teeth problems. Instead feed them chaff, chop or grass pellets. These require less chewing and make choking less likely. Contact your veterinarian for further advice.

Minerals, Salt and Forage Balancer

Donkeys need salt and, if suffering from a salt deficiency, they may eat dirt or lick/chew objects. To avoid this, pour some loose salt into a separate container to other food or give a little at night. You can also buy equine salt lick blocks, but make sure you do not buy a cattle salt block by mistake. A donkey forage balancer is also a great product to add to your donkey’s diet.

Two donkeys eating hay at troughWhat do donkeys eat for treats?

We know how easy it is to fall in love with a donkey, but don’t let that be reason to spoil them with delicious treats. You could very quickly land up with a rather fat donkey, as they are easily prone to obesity.

If you have to give a treat, then the best donkey treats are fruit (except stoned fruit) and certain vegetables (see vegetables to avoid in section below) cut into wedges with skins and rinds left on, such as:

1. Carrots (cut lengthways)
2. Pears
3. Swedes
4. Turnips
5. Hay pellets

Remember, if you want to train your donkey, spoken praise can often work as well as a treat.

Foods you should never feed your donkey

Here’s our list of foods that can be harmful to your donkey.

1. NEVER feed donkeys meat or dairy – animal protein can be fatal
2. Cereal grains such as corn, barley and oats
3. All cakes
4. Chocolate
5. All biscuits
6. Bread
7. Broccoli
8. Onions
9. Garlic
10. Aubergines
11. Leeks
12. Cauliflower
13. Tomatoes
14. Peppers
15. Potatoes

Donkey weight

Try not to overfeed your donkey. It is very easy to do, as they will not tell you when they are full. To prevent this, check your donkey’s body condition score on a regular basis.

And remember…water!

Donkeys love fresh water and are known to refuse to drink water if it’s not clean or if it’s poured into a dirty bucket. Make sure that their water is not freezing cold or that it does not freeze over in the winter. Donkeys ideally always need access to clean water.

Donkey with owner and SPANA vetSPANA loves donkeys

We at SPANA have been providing free veterinary treatment to working donkeys across the world for over 90 years. We have cared for thousands of animals, including those with nutritional problems, either due to their owner’s lack of knowledge or lack of access to nutritious foods.

With our years of experience, we hope that this information helps you to look after your donkey. If you are ever worried that your donkey might not be feeling himself, either through behavioural changes or you notice he’s eating less, always seek an equine veterinarian’s advice.

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3 comments on “What do donkeys eat?

  1. Kathleen Woodward on

    Is it okay to feed senior feed low on starch and is 2 cups twice a day too much? Just got two donkeys. Thanks for your help

    • SPANA on

      Hi Kathleen, here’s advice from our vet team: feeding 2 small cups twice a day is okay as long as the senior feed is low in both starch and sugars and the donkey is in good shape and health. Also, the quantity itself should depend on the condition of the animal, for example: if the donkey is a little fat or has had laminitis then you should reduce the quantity or eliminate it all together and just feed grass/hay.

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