Questions and answers about donkeys and other equines:

We often look to see what people have searched for when they find our website. These are just a few of the most commonly asked questions about donkeys and other equines. More to follow. . .

What do donkeys eat?
How do I pare a donkey's hoof?
What is the difference between a mule and a jennet?
How can I tell if my donkey has mange and what can I do about it?
How do I recognise symptoms of plant poisoning in horses and donkeys?

Q - What do donkeys eat?

A – Food

A donkey’s dry matter intake is higher than other large herbivores, being up to 3.1% of their live bodyweight which means they need considerably more fibre and less protein than horses. Ideally, they will eat up to 5% their live bodyweight daily in feeding straw (barley) or hay.

Donkeys out at grass do not need good quality grass and should be carefully monitored for overfeeding in the presence of rich, lush, grass and clover.

In the wild they may travel up to 30km a day grazing and browsing for food which would include a large variety of shrubs, bark, berries and different types of plants.

Over feeding leads to obesity and heart disease, as does lack of exercise when confined to a limited area with nothing to do but eat; and both can quickly lead to laminitis, an incredibly painful condition which manifests in the hooves and causes permanent damage.

If it is necessary to supplement a donkey’s feed, as with older donkeys, sick donkeys or donkeys with tooth problems, always choose a low protein mix (6-10%) without oats (generally known as a cool feed mix) as oats are very warming and can also lead to laminitis. Lightly molassed chaff or chaff with no molasses are good for filling if there is difficulty in chewing hay or straw and soakable fibre nuts are excellent for donkeys with mouth problems as they can be served as wet as is necessary to facilitate eating.

A salt lick or mineral lick is usually appreciated by donkeys which do not have a large area of natural terrain to browse as it will supplement any missing minerals.

A – Water

Donkeys have a lower water requirement per unit of bodyweight than any other domesticated animal except the camel, but it does not have the capacity to store water. Usually a donkey will drink 18-35 litres of water a day, depending on dry matter intake and temperature, but they can withstand up to a 20% loss of bodyweight due to dehydration and still recover the weight when water is available. In most circumstances they can survive up to three days without water but this is NOT an excuse to leave them without water at all times. Surviving without water for three days and being comfortable without water for three days are two different things. Donkeys are also very particular about having CLEAN water and have been known to refuse dirty water even when thirsty.

Q – How do I pare a donkey’s hoof?

A – You don’t

This is the job of a fully qualified and registered farrier who has undergone a full 4 year training or apprenticeship. There is an old saying, “no hoof, no horse” and this applies to donkeys as well.

The structure of the hoof is complicated and sensitive and can be likened to our own fingernails, except the nail wraps all round the finger. The nail is the outer hoof wall which protects the sensitive inner laminae which supply blood to the tissue and bones of the hoof. Over paring of the outer wall exposes the inner sensitive laminae and causes just as much pain as when we tear a finger nail below the ‘quick’. Incorrect paring will result in a misshapen hoof, which in turn causes the hoof to be out of balance. In order to counteract the stress caused by such imbalance, the bones inside the hoof will rotate and twist, causing considerable pain. Over the years the bones may even burst through the soles of hoof, at which point the unfortunate donkey has to be euthanased.

In most European countries it is against the law (with substantial fines) for anyone other than a qualified farrier to trim the hooves of any equine.

Q – What is the difference between a mule and a jennet?

A –

The terms are subject to localised interpretation but officially a mule is the product of a donkey stallion and a horse or pony mare. A jennet (or hinny) is the product of a horse or pony stallion and a donkey mare. In both cases these animals are hybrids and sterile ie. They cannot breed themselves.


Q – How can I tell if my donkey has mange and what can I do about it?

A –

A donkey infested with mange mites will be suffering intense irritation to the skin which will have lesions, scabby areas and conseequent loss of hair. As mite numbers increase so do the skin sores and scabs until the skin becomes raw and leathery in some areas. There are many different types of mange mites and treatment will depend on both the type and how far the condition has progressed before diagnosis. In all cases a veterinary surgeon should be consulted for a correct diagnosis as the symptoms are very similar to both lice infestation and rain scald.

In the case of lice infestation the lice themselves, and certainly the eggs, can usually be seen on the coat very close to the skin, whereas the mange mite is invisible to the naked human eye. Lice can be treated very effectively with some pour-on products like Butox and Redict, which are primarily made for cattle and sheep but beware as some pour-on products are dangerous for equines.

Mange invariably needs to be treated with washes specific to the type of mite and can take from one week to one month to eradicate.

Rain scald is usually caused by the donkey being left out in wet weather without shelter. The rain seeps deep into the coat and causes chapping, which in turn causes irritation so the donkey rubs a sore patch with subsequent scabbing and hair loss. As long as rain scald is not seriously infected it may be treated by carefully trimming away excess loose hair and applying an antiseptic cream or gel to the area. Seriously infected skin may require antibiotics and other veterinary intervention. NB. Neem oil has been reported for successfully treating scabies which is a serious skin disease caused by one of the same mites that causes mange.

Q – How do I recognise symptoms of plant poisoning in horses and donkeys?

A –

First of all, if you have ANY reason to believe your equine has been poisoned, call your vet immediately giving as much information as possible, however trivial it may seem. Whilst some poisons are not aggressive, and can be treated, others are very aggressive and, if treatable at all, are extremely time sensitive.

Symptoms cover a huge range and can sometimes be contradictory:


Excessive sweating
Lethargy or over-excitability
Uncoordinated movement
Weight loss

Frothing at the mouth or regurgitation
Dilated pupils
Excessive salivation
Twitching of the head and eye muscles

Mouth blisters
Clamping of the jaws
Weak/rapid pulse
Blood in urine
Fluid on the lungs
Renal failure


Worldwide the list of poisonous plants is considerable but some of the most commonly found are listed below:


Yew - taxus species (perhaps the deadliest of them all)
Anemone (all species)
Beech mast
Bluebell bulbs
Bracken fern
Bog Asphodel
Columbine (Aquilegia)
Common Sorrel
Corn Cockle
Daffodil bulbs
Field horsetail
Globe Flower
Greater Celandine
Green Potato sprouts
Horse Radish leaves and flowering shoots Laburnum
Monkshood (Aconite)
Oak leaves

Snowdrop bulbs
St John’s Wort
Thorn apple
Wild Peas

. . . and many more


Links to helpful websites:

The Donkey Sanctuary Fact Sheets