Don’t Forget the Donkeys


by Jen Reda DVM

Hey all, Dr. Reda here and just wanted to share a couple thoughts with you regarding care of donkeys.  Quite a few of our clients have donkeys—many obtained as protectors for other livestock.  Donkeys  can be powerful guards against coyotes and other predators, keeping animals such as goats, sheep, dogs, and even other horses safe.  Donkeys range in size from miniature donkeys who stand less than 36 inches at the withers when fully mature, to standard donkeys that are 36-54 inches at the withers, to mammoth donkeys that are over 54 inches (13+ hands).

Many owners do not recognize their need for veterinary care, alongside their horse counterparts.

So what is the actual difference between a donkey and a horse?  Both fall under the family Equidae, which includes horses, donkeys, and zebras.  However, the donkey is actually a different species called Equus asinus as opposed to a horse which is Equus caballus.  Genetically the two species are different as a domestic horse has 64 chromosomes while a domestic donkey only  has 62 chromosomes.  When crossed, the resulting mule or hinny has 63 chromosomes and thus are considered sterile, although there have been case reports of fertility in a female mule. Donkeys have a reputation for being very hardy!  We see them much less frequently than their equine counterparts for medical conditions such as colic, choke, or lameness.  Donkeys are also generally easy keepers and do not require a lot of grain or hay to maintain their weight—many subsist on forage only.


What has been on my mind most recently regarding donkeys is that many owners do not recognize their need for veterinary care, alongside their horse counterparts.  I see many donkeys that are not dewormed or vaccinated—when discussing this with owners sometimes there are misconceptions such as “My donkey never leaves the farm”, “She has always seemed healthy” or “Well we don’t ride him.”  It is crucial that donkeys still maintain on a regular deworming and vaccination schedule.  Most donkeys will need a rabies vaccine once yearly, and a combination vaccine twice yearly including Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE), Western Equine Encephalitis (WEE), West Nile Virus (WNV), and tetanus.  EEE/WEE and West Nile Virus are all spread by mosquitoes, so donkeys are still susceptible even if they never leave the farm.  Donkeys face exposure to potentially rabid creatures such as possums, raccoons, armadillos etc, so the rabies vaccine is necessary for them.  Finally, parasites can be a major problem in donkeys—they too are susceptible to many of the major internal parasites that horses get such as small and large strongyles, roundworms, lungworms, and tapeworms.  Donkeys who are not dewormed can build up a major internal parasite load which can show clinical signs such as a rough hair coat, lethargy, diarrhea, unthriftiness, potbelly, and colic.  Donkeys can also develop severe anemia due to internal parasitism.  A fecal egg count on your donkey’s manure will show us what parasites are present and in what quantities, and then we can recommend an appropriate deworming schedule for you.

So this fall, as you are getting your annual vaccinations and fecal egg counts done on your horses, don’t forget the donkeys!