Animal Health & Disease Management

Donkeys (new, with animal welfare information)

Scientific name: Equus asinus asinus

Order/Family: Equidae

For more information see The Donkey Care Handbook


The donkey, Equus africanus asinus, is a domesticated member of the Equidae or horse family. The wild ancestor of the donkey is the African Wild Ass, E. africanus.
In the western United States, a small donkey is sometimes called a burro (from the Spanish word for the animal).
A male donkey is called a jack, a female a jenny, and offspring less than one year old, a foal (male: colt, female filly). While different species of the Equidae family can interbreed, offspring are almost always sterile. Nonetheless, horse/donkey hybrids are popular for their durability and vigor. A mule is the offspring of a jack (male donkey) and a mare (female horse). The much rarer successful mating of a male horse and a female donkey produces a hinny.
Donkeys were first domesticated around 3000 BC, approximately the same time as the horse, and have spread around the world. They continue to fill important roles in many places today and domesticated species are increasing in numbers, but the African wild ass and another relative, the Onager, are endangered. As "beasts of burden" and companions, donkeys have worked together with humans for millennia.
With domestication of almost all donkeys, few species now exist in the wild. Some of them are the African Wild Ass (Equus africanus) and its subspecies Somalian Wild Ass (Equus africanus somaliensis). The Asiatic wild ass or Onager (Equus hemionus), and its relative the Kiang (Equus kiang), are closely related wild species.



Understand donkeys as the animals they are

Donkeys are from origin an animal which should always be ready to flight from predators, and therefore their instincts for flighting is still a part of their behavior. They are more likely to take up a fight than horses, and they are quite territorial animals. As domesticated animals, they sometimes have difficulties even in tolerating animals of other species within their territory. In nature, they would live in small flocks. They are sensitive to changes in the environment, and as dometic animals, this also means that they are sensitive to changes in the way in which humans behave and treat them. Their behavior often reflects the behavior of the humans who interact with them. All changes should therefore be introduced slowly and gradually. They have very good memories. They want to be stimulated, and a boring environment can create behavioral problems. They are very sensitive to pain and pain should always be considered, if they behave strangely or refuse to collaborate. Donkeys can learn quite easily, especially things which are close to their natural behavior, and they can be slow learners when they are asked to do something unnatural like lifting feet for check and cleaning. They are very fond of being scratched, because it reflects their mutual grooming behavior in the flock, so that is a good reward in a learning process. Sometimes the mutual relationship between donkeys and humans make one doubting who is training who, because the donkey seem to train humans in giving them rewards or scratching them at the right spots.

Donkeys are tolerant of hot, arid environments. They are strong animals and can work hard and carry burdens. They are often claimed to be stubborn, but they are really just very good survivors and that is important to understand when working with them: most of their behavior is motivated by their will to survive, and therefore avoid everything which they find difficult, frightening or painful.

Donkeys can be wonderful guard animals - the right donkey gelding (castrated male) or jenny will take care of an entire herd of cattle, sheep or goats - the natural aversion to predators will inspire the donkey to severely discourage any canine attacks on the herd.



Donkeys in East Africa

Despite the increase in mechanization, donkeys are still well deserving of the name 'beasts of burden'. Throughout the world, they play an important role  in the transport of people and goods in rural, arid and semi-arid areas and where roads are poor or non-existent.

A notable increase in the use of donkeys for tillage is evident in East Africa as the number of draft cattle on small farms have declined. This has resulted in changing perceptions of the value of the donkey in many rural communities that rely on animal power for crop production. Other than for labour, donkeys are the only alternative to oxen on many smallholder farms in East Africa. They are the cheapest form of farm power other than human labour, and therefore within reach of the "poorest of the poor"; they are available to women in cultures where men usually manage the draft animals and are therefore able to alleviate the drudgery of women's household activities, such as water and firewood carrying. 
These two situations have resulted in an extraordinary increase in interest in the donkey since 1990 by both farmers and aid agencies as well as a realization that little is understood of donkeys' requirements, potential for improvement and contribution to rural livelihoods. The challenge facing farmers is to make the best use of the resources that they have available, while the challenge to livestock researchers and extension officers is to provide information that will help farmers do this. Donkeys have developed very loud vocalizations, which help them to keep in contact with other donkeys over the wide spaces of the desert.

Donkeys at risk - Skin trade

Right now, millions of donkeys from Asia, Africa and South America are at risk of being stolen and slaughtered for their skins – the gelatin in the hide being a key ingredient in the prized traditional Chinese medicine called ejiao (e-gee-yow).

A new report (January 2017) by The Donkey Sanctuary reveals the shocking scale of this global demand for donkey skins – a demand that is unsustainable, whilst simultaneously causing mass-scale suffering to donkeys and risking the livelihoods of millions of people who depend on them. This trade, in both its legal and illegal forms, is resulting in a chain of welfare issues for the donkeys at every step, from sourcing to transport and finally slaughter. These issues can’t be ignored – the donkeys' welfare and their real value supporting people’s livelihoods is at risk.

We call for a halt to the trade in donkey skins to produce ejiao until the impact of the trade can be assessed and shown to be both humane for donkeys and sustainable for the communities that depend on them.

In particular, we urge other countries affected by this trade to follow the lead taken by Burkina Faso and Niger and ban the slaughter and export of donkeys for their skins.

We urge governments and the industry to join us in raising public awareness about the impact of this trade so that ejiao consumers can make an informed choice.

We call on governments and local authorities to join efforts to support affected communities, protecting them from the illegal trade and preventing the decimation of donkeys through the legal trade.

Please find more information here
Pls find the full report for download here

Breeds and Breeding

Some examples of domestic donkey breeds includes the: 


Domestic donkey breeds

An incomplete list of domestic donkey breeds includes the:

  • Abyssinian Donkey 
  • American Spotted Donkey 
  • Cypriot Donkey 
  • Mammoth Donkey 
  • Mammoth Jack 
  • Miniature Mediterranean Donkey 
  • Poitou Donkey: The Poitou Donkey breed was developed in France for the sole purpose of producing mules. It is a large donkey breed with a very long shaggy coat and no dorsal stripe. 
  • Spotted Ass 
  • Standard Donkey 
  • Burro - adopted wild Burro 
  • Wild Ass, Onager and Kiang 
  • East African Donkey


East African donkey
East African donkey

© Val Corr, Naivasha, Kenya




The donkeys found in East Africa are generally quite small (1 m - 1.50m). They are greyish in colour and have the black stripe across the withers. It is probable that, due to unplanned and indiscriminate breeding, as well as poor management, the donkeys in EA, especially in rural areas, are smaller and appear to be weak behind. In contrast, the donkeys from Northern Kenya generally appear to be bigger, stronger and a more biscuit brown in colour. They are also, generally, in better condition that the rural donkey despite the poor pasture. This has to be attributed to the better management practices used by the rural communities of this area. This, presumably, could be as a result of more experience with donkeys in this area.   




While different species of the Equidae family can interbreed, offspring are almost always sterile. Nonetheless, horse/donkey hybrids are popular for their durability and vigor. A mule is the offspring of a jack (male donkey) and a mare (female horse). The much rarer successful mating of a male horse and a female donkey produces a hinny. Mules were common in East Africa until the 70's since when they are hardly ever seen. They were used widely as pack animals during the war and on safari. The mule is, generally, a much bigger animal than the East Africa donkey. They are usually a dark brown and their ears are much longer than a donkey's. Their size makes them stronger than a donkey, but they are not as obliging as a donkey


Jennies are pregnant for approximately 11 months, and usually give birth to one foal. Twins are very rare and, where this occurs, one of the twins would more than likely be very small and would not survive. Horse-donkey hybrids are almost always sterile because horses have 64 chromosomes whereas donkeys have 62, producing offspring with 63 chromosomes. The offspring of a zebra-donkey cross is called a, zebroid. Occasionally zebroids are seen in areas of East Africa where donkeys and zebras graze in close proximity. They are easily identified by stripes on their legs, quarters and, sometimes, their sides. This cross is often found to be very difficult to train as zebra are known for their unfriendly nature and it seems that this trait is passed on to the young.


The offspring of a zebra-donkey cross is called a, zebroid. Occasionally zebroids are seen in areas of East Africa where donkeys and zebras graze in close proximity. They are easily identified by stripes on their legs, quarters and, sometimes, their sides. This cross is often found to be very difficult to train as zebra are known for their unfriendly nature and it seems that this trait is passed on to the young.



A very simple stable made of off cuts, lined with plastic or sacks, with a door. Simple slip rails could be used instead.

© Val Corr, Naivasha, Kenya



The housing of donkeys can be kept very basic. Depending on the climate and season, a small shelter is sufficient. It should have, at the very least, a roof. It should, preferably also have three closed sides with the open side facing away from the prevailing wind directions.There must be enough space to lie down and the floor should not be damp or cold. Barbed wire enclosures should not be used for enclosing donkeys. Many donkeys will try to get through or jump over and injure themselves.

The shelter should be at least 8 foot x 8 foot (2.4 x 2.4 m) for a single donkey. If the house is smaller than this, the donkey may get 'cast' when it lies down. The floor should be cleaned regularly and never allowed to become muddy with manure and urine as the donkey will almost certainly develop foot problems.  If the donkey is sheltered at night it is likely to be able to work much better as it will not have expended energy trying to keep warm. If the shelter has a door (which can very easily be made of slip rails) it is advisable to put water and hay inside the stable for the donkey to eat during the night. This will ensure that the donkey is rehydrated for work the following morning.

A donkey house can be constructed from 6 poles (one at each corner, one in the centre at the rear of the shelter, two for the door). The sides can be made of off cuts or, if these are not available, sacking can be fixed to the poles to afford shelter from the wind. The door should be at least 6 foot (1.8 m) wide. The stable needs to be at least 6 foot (1.8 m) high, and the roof should be pitched to allow water to drain. It is advisable to either gutter the roof and harvest the water or dig a ditch at the back of the shelter, in order that any water spillage is drained away from the stable.

Nutrition - Feeding your donkey

Donkeys generally take good care of themselves by using the feed efficiently for maintaining their own body, but perform even better when we take good care of them and feed them well. Donkeys that are well fed are generally healthier, more productive and cost less to maintain. Donkeys' tough digestive system is somewhat less prone to colic than that of horses, and is able to break down near-inedible vegetation, extracting moisture from food very efficiently. A donkey in a good body condition is less susceptible to injuries and skin damages than a skinny donkey. A donkey eats very little and is able to work long hours. In return you must feed the donkey so that (s)he maintains the same body weight even in periods of hard work or/and being pregnant. It can use low quality, high fibrous feed and likes to graze and browse. They use protein very efficient and can do with low protein fodder. Jennies in late gestation and lactating jennies need more energy and protein for the growth of the foetes and to supply the foal with sufficient milk.

When a female donkey has a foal, she will need time off. There is a very high mortality rate in donkey foals which is undoubtedly caused by the mother being worked to soon and too hard after birth, resulting in poor or insufficient milk production - the baby donkey will suffer from malnutrition and, in the worst case, will die from starvation.

Donkeys can be fed with fresh grass (grazing), all kind of hay and all kind of by-products. With a mixed ration, requirements for minerals, trace elements and vitamins will be met. With only old hay in the ration and no green feeds, mineral licks should be supplied. The longer the feed has been in the shamba, the harder it will be for the donkey to digest, the more it declines in proteins and the more it increases in fibre. Forage that "smokes" when shaken is moldy. Abortion, colic, and even death have been attributed to moldy hay. Avoid feeding your donkey with food that has turned moldy. Don't allow your donkeys to feed on garbage, its dangerous for their health.


Energy foods

Energy food gives donkey the strength to live, walk and work. The more energy foods your donkey eats the harder it can work and the stronger it will be. Donkeys get energy mainly from feeding on grass and straw. Feeds which contain higher leaf to stem ratio makes a feed more nutritious and easier to eat. Such feed has greater nutritional value.


Protein foods

Protein in foods gives your donkey what it needs to grow, stay healthy and recover from injuries and illness. Young donkeys need a lot of protein to grow, they get it from the mother’s milk. Donkeys get protein from dark green foods like alfalfa, bean straw and some types of trees like acacia. You can also supplement protein with cattle or sheep's food. However, any of these supplements should NOT contain UREA (in organic it is not allowed to add urea as protein source or improve digestibility).



Fats in food help to keep your donkey healthy and warm. Body fats act as a store of energy when food is in short supply. Most of the donkey's food does not contain much fat, but its body can make fat and store it from the surplus  energy and protein not needed for labour, growth, milk.



Vitamins keep your donkey healthy and strong. If it doesn't get vitamins it will become weak and sick. Donkeys get vitamins from fresh green foods like vegetables or grass. Green feed in normally higher in all vitamins, particularly vitamin A. Dry, old grass contains few vitamins.



Minerals and salts give your donkey strong bones, teeth and a higher blood count. If your donkey doesn't get enough minerals its bones become weak and fragile. If a donkey doesn't get enough salt it will feel weak. On hot days it loses salt from its body through sweat and needs to eat more salt to replace the lost salts. Feeds from legumes, like alfalfa and clover are normally higher in proteins, vitamins and minerals (especially calcium) that feeds from grass


How much feed?

The amount of fresh food a donkey needs depends on food quality, food freshness and the nature of the donkey's work or gestation/lactation. The following table shows the recommended feed for donkeys with different needs.


Non working donkey Napier and fresh grass
Working donkey  Napier, fresh grass and rice straw 
Adult males  Napier and fresh grass 
Pregnant females Napier and fresh grass
Grazing donkey Napier and fresh grass
Milking females Napier, fresh grass rice straw and Maize husks/cobs.



A nursing jenny needs to eat the equivalent of about 2 - 3% of her body weight a day in dry matter if she is only fed forage. 1 kg of dry matter in fresh grass is about 5 kg of grass, in hay it is about 1.2 kg. A working donkey needs to eat a volume of about 3 - 4% of its body weight a day. Thus an average donkey (of 100 kg body weight) will need about 15 kg of green fodder a day and more if nursing or working. If a donkey cannot obtain this amount from available grazing, it will need supplements. If concentrate are fed each working day, they will require less grazing, and learn that work brings rewards. If a donkey is fed well, but is still thin, it probably has internal parasites which need treating.



If possible donkeys should have access to fresh water at all times, or at least in the morning and evening. Donkeys don’t overdrink. Lack of water can cause colic, a fatal condition. The water trough or buckets should be kept clean. Donkeys should be allowed to drink as much as they want without being rushed. Drinking from ponds or streams  is fine as long as they are not exposed to heavily used, muddy areas as these may contain parasites such as liver fluke.

The importance of water cannot be stressed enough. When deprived of water for extended periods a donkey will suffer muscle fatigue and, in severe cases, death will result.


General Guidelines

  1. Give plenty of water to drink such that it wants to eat more; give water before you feed.
  2. Feed your donkey more on working days and when heavily pregnant
  3. Feed your donkey in trough not on the ground; this reduces waste.
  4. Grow some crops or grass that your donkey can routinely feed on in your compound or garden
  5. Save some feed that you might feed to your other animals for your donkey
  6. Feed more crop residues such as maize stover or rice straw, store them off the ground and under cover.
  7. Feed kitchen waste to you donkey and crop residues from bean and pea crops, which contain lots of protein.
  8. Give your donkey a salt lick
  9. Give a little fresh green feed every day.
  10. Use a running line tether along ditches and fields boundaries so that your donkey has a lot to choose from.
  11. Use a nosebag to feed when it is resting during the working day
  12. If your donkey is over 10 years old, ask the veterinarian or animal health worked to check its teeth, and if necessary file them.
  13. Check your donkey for worms and other parasites and if necessary, treat it.

WARNING: DO NOT feed donkeys with cattle or goat/sheep's feed that contains urea (biuret) or monensin (both are forbidden in organic feed). Check the label and if in doubt don't feed otherwise you'll kill it!


Feed supplements, alternative feed resources, feeding methods

Provided natural pasture is abundant and donkeys have adequate time to graze, the feeding of donkeys should not be a major problem. Besides forage (or roughage) from grazing, the animals may be fed additional forage and concentrates provided by the farmer, depending on age and workload. In general, feeding strategies should be aimed at maintaining adequate body condition during periods of work or reproduction. Some preserved forage or concentrates should be stored for such periods. This is particularly important if donkeys have to work at the end of the dry season, when natural pasture is scarce. The most common forage supplements are crop residues. These include groundnut hay, and maize and sorghum stover. The leaves of legume fodder trees (e.g., Leucaena, Sesbania and some Acacias) are rich in protein and can also be fed to donkeys.  Supplements are most important in the following conditions:

  • Local grazing is poor because of drought or over-grazing.

  • Animals must walk long distances for food.

  • Donkeys do not get at least six grazing hours each day.

  • Female donkeys are in the last three months of pregnancy or they are nursing a foal.

  • Young foals are growing, especially between 6 and 18 months of age.


Take care when staking donkeys for eating

If donkeys are staked when grazing, it is important to move their stake daily, or even twice per day. The donkey must have enough rope to move and can find shade in hot temperatures.

Never tie a donkey by its leg as this may cause blood restriction which could result in the foot falling off. If they are fenced, it is better to have several small paddocks rather than one large one. This allows donkeys to be moved often (rotational grazing). In this way donkeys gain more nutrients than if they continually and selectively graze one large pasture. A grazing donkey can ingest eggs of internal parasites contained in manure, causing internal infections with these parasites, particularly worms. Therefore donkeys should not be allowed to graze in areas with lots of manure.

Never resort to placing a wire ring in the nose of a donkey. The septum is not the same as that of a cow and the wire will nearly always cause serious damage to the donkeys nose. This can result in infection of the nasal/sinus passages.



Damaged Nose
Damaged Nose

© Val Corr, Naivasha, Kenya


Care and Management of working Donkeys

All animals are sensitive to how we treat them. That counts also for  donkeys. If we treat them better, they will be healthier, feel better, live longer and they will produce better. With humane, considerate care and treatment, a donkey becomes the most co-operative and productive work animal. Donkeys are known for their willingness to work for man (they are very slow, but this is why they are so tough) and for their longevity. A donkey that is well cared for is able to work for at least 15 years. If they are not taken care off, they don't make much past 7 years.

injured donkey
Avoid injuries on working donkey

© Mette Vaarst




Below are some practices you should consider in your relationship with your donkey.

Treat your donkey humanely

Donkeys should always be treated gently. If you are harsh to your donkey, it  will not be friendly to you. When a donkey is working, and during the dry season she needs a balanced diet and mineral salts. If using your donkey to carry loads on her back, ensure that the load is not to heavy, that the load is balanced, the backbone is protected and there is enough padding to prevent sores from developing. For pulling carts use comfortable breast straps or collar harnessing with breaching and don’t overload carts. Always ensure that the draw pole does not rub against the donkey's body, causing injuries and sores. If your donkey is tethered, be sure the rope is not hurting. If the hoofs are getting to long and or uneven, trim them proper so that it can walk without pain. Wash sweat patches on the donkey and on the harness with clean water after work to prevent it from causing lesions. 


Keep your donkey healthy

If your donkey is not eating well and looks dull or sick, seek veterinary advice. If you are the owner you are responsible of its health and wellbeing. If your donkey is grazing the same field all year round it could be infected with internal parasites. Rotational grazing solves that problem. When that is not possible, de-worm your donkey if it is infected. De-worming is most effective at the end of dry season, or before seasonal rains. The most common disease in donkeys include: tetanus, tick, fever, african horse sickness, pneumonia and rabies. All these illnesses need veterinary attention


Use harnesses that fit

Good harnessing is important in order to easily handle and work better with your donkey and prevent it to get injured and have wounds. Don't allow harnesses e.g. timber or metal bars to come over the donkey's back as this may cause wounds. It is very easy to cover your harness and ropes in sheep skin, with the hair side against the donkeys skin (especially on their shoulders, backs and under their tails).Keep harnesses and equipment around where your donkey rests so that she becomes familiar with them. Use also carts that do not cause pain, injuries and sores to the donkey.


Train your donkey

Training should precede working sessions and donkeys usually learn very fast.


Pull carts
Pull carts
Donkeys pulling cart. It is important to use harnesses that fit to the size and shape of the donkey, and pack them carefully and balanced and with no ropes which injures hair and skin

© KENDAT, Kenya


Carrying heavy loads
Carrying heavy loads
A donkey carrying pack goods. It is important to use harnesses that fit to the size and shape of the donkey, and pack them carefully and balanced and with no ropes which injures hair and skin.

© KENDAT, Kenya




A farmer tilling his land with donkeys: it is important to use harnesses and equipment which fit to the donkey, and take care that it can manage the task.

© KENDAT, Kenya


A boy riding on a donkey
A boy riding on a donkey

© KENDAT, Kenya











Guard animals

Donkeys can also make wonderful guard animals - the right donkey gelding (male) or jennet will take care of an entire herd of cattle, sheep or goats - the natural aversion to predators will inspire the donkey to severely discourage any canine attacks on the herd.


Some good practices


  • Allow your donkey to rest and graze before work. Make sure (s)he gets enough to eat and enough water to drink.

  • Give your donkey at least one day rest per week.

  • Shelter your donkey at night and especially during hot and wet/rainy weather

  • Provide your donkey with a dry soil/floor to stand to prevent thrush.

  • Allow only adults who will take good care of your donkey to use it.approach your donkey from the sideway and not from the front nor the back. They cannot see you very well from the front , as she will be surprised and may react defensively.

  • Ensure that your donkey pulls only a load that itis comfortable with. It is better to make two journeys if the load is heavy




  • Don't injure your donkey by whipping, cutting or caning.
  • Don’t use  a stick on their heads. This only makes them 'head shy' and difficult to deal with.
  • Don’t beat donkeys although they are notoriously lazy  even though it is necessary to carry a stick.
  • Don't beat or cane your donkey when she is struggling to pull a heavy load up a slope. Help by pushing the cart from behind instead.

  • Don't overload your donkey or work it when sick, as this is against the law and it is causing damages and shortens the donkeys life. Don’t let a 'contractor' misuse your donkey. Make him understand the value of your donkey and, if you are not happy with his treatment of your donkey, find another 'contractor'.

  • Don't leave your donkey to roam around especially at night; she may cause a road accident.

  • Don't tie your donkey by the leg. This may cause her to break her leg. Instead, use a head collar and tie the rope to it or if not available, tie the rope around her neck.


Daily care of working donkeys 

At the beginning of the working day a halter has to be placed around a donkey's head, for instance by using a rope that passes behind the ears and around the nose. Lead the animal to a tree or post to groom and prepare it.

Donkeys like routine so use the same place and routine each day.This is a good moment to give some concentrates or by-products. Otherwise give something like fruit peelings, a banana or a handful of maize. This will encourage the donkey to come and enjoy human attention. Observe the donkey. If its behaviour is different from previous days then something may be wrong. Alertness and interest will indicate that the donkey is healthy.Feel the legs to be sure they are not swollen or hot. Any damage to the legs caused on the previous day will show up in a stiff and obviously uncomfortable gait. Any temporary stiffness should be quickly .walked off. If this does not happen the donkey should be put to rest for as long as necessary. If the stiffness persists a veterinarian needs to be consulted. 


Care of the coat 

 Grooming means taking care of the hair and skin of the animal. Daily grooming is important for the health of working donkeys. Donkeys enjoy being groomed and will become tamer by this daily routine. Grooming keeps the donkey's skin healthy and prevents dirt from causing harness sores. Give special attention to those parts of the skin that are in contact with the harness and/or back pad and sweaty.Grooming should be done after work and can be done with a wad of dry grass or a piece of old sack. This will massage tired muscles, loosen dirt and dust and dead hair.

If a donkey gets very dirty or sweaty, it may be helpful to wash it all over with clean water after work. Take a damp cloth and wipe out the nostrils and around the eyes. Any secretions that may have occurred during the night should not be left on the face during the day, as these will attract flies.

Check the coat for external parasites such as ticks. Ticks do not only create wounds, but also spread many infectious diseases. Check especially under the tail and inside the legs where the donkey cannot easily reach when grooming itself. Remove by hand any ticks that are found. 


Care of legs and hooves

 Inspect a donkey's hooves daily and take care of them. A donkey.s hoof should be short and upright with an oval bottom. If the toe becomes long and slanted, it should be trimmed. Excess hoof wall, as well as ragged loose pieces of frog, can be removed with a sharp, strong knife. Cracks and chips in the wall can spread, and eventually destroy the entire hoof. Coating them daily with oil or grease may help hooves that are very dry or brittle, badly cracked or broken. This prevents them from further dehydration and assists healing. 


Hoof in good condition
Hoof in good condition

© Val Corr, Naivasha, Kenya


A donkey will pick up its foot if the tendon is pinched at the back of the leg, just above the pastern. Pick up and handle the feet of the donkey early and often in its training, calling a clear command like leg! so that it will not object to this care later on during its working life.


Healthy frog
Healthy frog

© Val Corr, Naivasha, Kenya



Clean out the bottom of the hooves with a hoof pick before each use of the donkey, to prevent lameness from stones or other materials penetrating the sole of the foot. Clean from the heel towards the toe, especially in the grooves between the frog and the bars of the hoof. 


Wet frog needing attention
Wet frog needing attention

© Val Corr, Naivasha, Kenya



If the area around the frog becomes black, oozing and very smelly the animal has thrush. This bacterial disease results from prolonged standing in wet areas. Treat it by pouring on a solution of copper sulfate or iodine daily. Take the animal out of wet housing and provide a dry floor. An untreated hoof will rot and cripple the animal permanently. 


Foot dangerously long
Foot dangerously long

© Val Corr, Naivasha, Kenya




Rope marks on both legs
Rope marks on both legs

© Val Corr, Naivasha, Kenya



Implements and tillage practices

Most of the implements used in crop production in Africa have been designed for use with oxen. These implements are too heavy for a single donkey or a teams with two donkeys. They can be useful  for a team of four donkeys in good condition. Increasing the number of animals in a team is not always the answer.

Teams of more than four donkeys are difficult to use, unless fields are large, and work output per animal drops as the number of animals in a team increases (eg Karim-Sesay, 1993). It is unlikely that farmers would be able to make harnesses for this kind of work, without seriously compromising the wellbeing of the working animals.

A major challenge to the agricultural engineers is to identify, design or modify implements that can be used effectively by donkeys in primary cultivation. The implement has to be technically acceptable by and affordable to farmers in order to be adopted by them.

Secondary cultivation, weeding and carting require lower draft forces than plowing and the low live weight of the donkey is less of a constraint. This is also the case on light sandy soils where plowing is often unnecessary for crop establishment. The development of alternative tillage practices that require less power than conventional plowing in which the donkey can be used provide a further challenge to engineers and soil scientists.



Designs for suitable harnesses for donkeys are available, and consist of two types: collars and breastbands. The problem of harnessing is therefore not a technical one, but more one of acceptance, money to buy it, education and dissemination. The challenge is to develop techniques to teach the farmers the benefits of using harnesses that are comfortable to the animal, and then encourage them to use these harnesses. Showing them that donkeys with a comfortable harness work better and last longen without wounds could help.

In Africa this generally means a breastband harness, although there are a few areas where collar harnesses are available. Collar harnesses, while excellent for the donkey, are expensive for the farmers and require some training of artisans in their construction. Breastband harnesses are a cheaper alternative to collar harnesses, but these can cause bad sores if they are not made correctly and/or fitted correctly.


Harness pad with cloth underneath to stop rubbing

© Val Corr, Naivasha, Kenya



The bands should be broad and of a material which will not readily rub the donkey, although padding of the harness with softer less abrasive material can overcome the latter problem. The harness straps can easily be covered n sheep skin which will avoid rubbing at very little or no cost to the owner.

Fastenings should not be of a type that will rub the animal and adjustable straps over the back enable the size of the harness to be changed to fit different sizes of donkey. This is important if it is to be used on different animals.

Manufacturers of harnesses often make them too thin, to save on material and without adjustments or padding, in order to keep the price down. Purchase of such harnesses can prove a false economy to donkey users as they usually cause sores on the animals, thus reducing work performance. In some areas , farmers very often use the yokes they have for the cattle on the donkeys. This is not suitable for donkeys and might be illegal in some areas.


Donkey in well balanced cart
Donkey in well balanced cart

© Val Corr, Naivasha, Kenya




It is common practice for donkey owners, particular in rural areas and where donkeys live in large herds, to mark their animals. This is often done with hot wire (which is extremely painful) and by cutting patterns in their ears or, in worst case, to cut the ears off altogether.  The first method is acceptable in that it is probably the only way rural donkey owners have of identifying their animals. The second method should be avoided at all costs. 

Donkeys ears cut off
Donkeys ears cut off

© Val Corr, Naivasha, Kenya




Their longer ears may pick up more distant sounds and may help cool the donkey's blood. It is important that donkey owners do not cut off the ears as a mark. It is a mutilation that is not allowed..

Donkey's Health and Diseases

Routine Health Care Check

Donkeys are more stoic, therefore detecting ailment/disease becomes more difficult as dullness and depression maybe the only apparent sign. Therefore a donkey maybe in an advanced stage before a clinician is called to attend to such.Daily health checking of the donkeys' condition include:

  • Observing how the donkey responds to your arrival, as well as its food and water
  • Check the fecal consistency 
  • Check that the eyes are bright and clear; wipe away eye secretions as they attract flies.
  • Check the hooves- overgrowth, cracks, abnormal smells
  • Check the skin for external parasites such as ticks
  • Check for donkeys' gait- for signs of lameness.


A. Handling and restraint

This is an important aspect in management of donkey diseases/condition; wrong handling of donkeys while undertaking any examination may lead to the animal being un-friendly and therefore difficult to restrain. In normal situations when appropriate handling procedure are practiced the animal should be calm and be examined without much ado. However in highly strung animals, mistreated donkeys or one experiencing pain; restraining may be a challenge hence the need of chemical restraint.The following basic rules should be observed when handling the donkey.

  • Use minimum level of restraint; don't use force while restraining the animal. 
  • If the animal becomes difficult don't beat him/her but you need to stop and reassess the situation. 
  • Always impress upon the owner/user on proper restraining of his/her animal; as this will save you valuable time. Advice them on the need of not pulling the ears or applying pressure on the nose as this will make the donkey uncomfortable and it will become wild hence difficulty in restraining as well as altering the vital body parameters such as respiratory and temperature which will otherwise interfere with diagnosis. 
  • To avoid scaring the animal do minimize the number of people around so as not to scare the donkey.
  • Don't use several types of restraint concurrently. 
  • If the restraint method is not working STOP and reassess the situation.
  • The safety of the animal, yourself and others depend on you; therefore show the handler appropriate restraining procedure


Safe Handling of Donkeys

The Best Way to approach a Donkey

Unless the donkey knows you; it will be important for it to be handle by someone it knows and trust, otherwise it will be cautious about allowing you to move closer.

It is important to approach a donkey from the sideway and never directly from the back where a donkey cannot see you clearly nor directly from the front (donkey feels threatened) as these are the two blind spots for a donkey. However, at times if it is approached from the side the animal may turn to present its hind limbs a posture favorable for kicking, but the donkey should be encouraged to do the approaching instead, as described below.

Donkeys are flight (wild) animals and thus should not jump to grab them forcefully. When a donkey's ears are pointing backwards and its tail is switching strongly from side to side-this means it's frightened and preparing to kick. In such a situation it's better to check what is frightening it and remove the threat. If the donkey obviously considers the approaching person to be the threat, then that person must stand still, make soothing noises, use the donkey's name and hold some tidbit to encourage the donkey to make the approach to the person rather than the person approaching the donkey.

It's also advised to approach and work with donkeys, and stand before mounting on them always from the "near" or left side. The right side is called the "off" side.


Behavioral restraint 

  • Make the animal comfortable before attempting to restrain it.
  • Bring the animal closer to other animals; where it will feel comfortable; if it is a mare with a foal ensures it is closer / can see it

Physical restraints

  • Use a strong, natural rope twice as long as the donkey.
  • Tying /use halter or head collar.
  • Use non slip knot on the halter.
  • Use a quick release knot.
  • Hold the donkeys chin gently.
  • If Casting (lateral recumbence) it is necessary to sedate (by veterinarian) the animal so as to avoid fear & distress



A halter can be made from a piece of sisal rope; but one should avoid using nylon rope against the skin. A simple slip halter can be made with loops. Ensure that the halter doesn't become too tight across the head and doesn't apply too much pressure on the nose as this will block the animal from breathing hence cause discomfort and the animal will start being wild.


Head collar 

Head collars are suitable for donkeys'; they should have buckles to adjust the size of the straps around the nose. This way the head collar can be made big enough to go around a donkey's nose.


Chin hold for donkeys

For most donkeys this is sufficient, however when more restraint is required hold by the chin and the base of the ear. Put the flat of your hand under the animal's chin, the put your thumb across its mouth and grip (do not grab) with your fingers.


Blind folding

Covering a donkey's eyes with your hand, a towel or a similar cloth will often make it stand quietly. This is more useful in the field.


Lifting the front leg

This helps to prevent kicking from a hind leg(s). Pick up the front leg on the same side as the back leg on which you are working. Two people may be required for this technique; one person keeps the head still while the other holds up the front leg. However this method is not suitable for very nervous donkeys/horses. In such situations then light sedation is necessary.


Sedation for examination

Only veterinarians should attempt to sedate donkeys, so directions are not listed here, but for some types of examination sedation is necessary. Please consult you veterinarian.

Veterinary care - common diseases and conditions

General signs of disease

Donkeys tend to be quite healthy. When a donkey falls ill, give it a rest in a quiet place with food and water. Consult, if possible, the local animal health agent or veterinarian. A farmer should be able to tell in an early stage whether the donkey is sick. Signs of ill health are when a donkey:                                              

  • has a very warm muzzle, pasterns and feet;
  • has a nervous or depressed expression
  • hangs its head 
  • has a rough coat with hairs standing up
  • stands with all four legs close under it
  • is reluctant to take steps 
  • is sweating before work
  • does not pass faeces or urine, or if these are abnormal

The earlier a disease is recognised, the sooner treatment can start. The cost of medicine or loss of work power can thus be minimi



The common diseases mentioned hereunder are:

1. Wounds

2. Rectal prolapsed

3. Hoof Problems- Pedal Sepsis, Laminitis

4. Skin conditions and diseases

  • Swellings under the skin include- Abscesses, hernia, haematoma, tumour, oedema etc. 
  • Skin diseases- Bacterial Diseases, Viral Diseases, Parasitic Diseases, Fungal Diseases

5. External Parasites- Ticks, Lice and fleas, Mange

6. Internal parasites

  • Gut worm (intestinal): round worms or tapeworm
  • Lungworms
  • Flukes (trematodes)- inhabit liver and intestine
  • Stomach spirurids worms and larvae causing cutaneous habronemiasis

7. Infectious diseases

  • Bacterial diseases
  • Viral diseases
  • Fungal diseases

8. Main respiratory diseases 

9. Colic

10. Zoonotic diseases

11. Teeth problems

12. Horse sickness

13. Mud Fever 


1. Equine Wound Management

General wound care 

The wound should be cleaned with clean salty water. While a wound is healing the cause of the wound should be removed and the animal rested; if available a mild disinfectant can be used (dilute iodine 1-2%)

Fresh Wound management

  • Clip the hair around the edge of the wound 
  • Wash using clean water. 
  • Use fly repellant chemicals 

NB. Oxygen is a vital part of the wound repair process; anaerobic conditions may arise if the wound contains both a disrupted blood supply and an enclosed surfaced; puncture wounds are notorious for the development of these conditions and this provides an ideal circumstances for some of the most notorious Clostridial infections eg C. tetani is classic wound contaminant; to which Penicillin is highly effective. A fully vaccinated donkey may contract tetanus when the wounds are highly contaminated with the causative agent.


Wounds with impaired oxygen delivery require careful management to eliminate anaerobic conditions and encourage a good oxygen supply. NB: In case of deep wounds it is important to administer Tetanus toxin currently available:


i. Managing Infected wound

It is paramount to remove all the dead tissues and any foreign bodies in the wound using a scapel blade which may delay the healing of the wound. Ideally after 6-8 hours a wound is considered to be contaminated therefore the need of using prophylactic antibiotic. Any suspected infection should be flushed using diluted hydrogen peroxide should not be used in any healing wound - ensure there is proper drainage for the hydrogen peroxide; this is followed by lavaging and later application of diluted (1-2%) Povidone iodine.



2. Rectal prolapse

This is where the lower or the end part of the gut may turn out/ come out of the body. This is commonly seen in working donkeys that are suffering from heavy helminthiasis (internal worm parasitism) - Gasterophilus larvae (Bot fly); diarrhea and malnutrition. While feeding of dry feed (bran, maize or rice straws) without adequately providing the donkey with water. Overloading/overworking may also predispose the donkey to the condition.Other causes include parturition and colic.



a) Manifestation

The owner complains of a mass of reddish (meat) hanging from the rectum. The rectum is oedematous/swollen, reddish or cyanotic (survival rate is low). Ruptured (cracks) due to excessive edema. Necrosismay have set in.


b) Treatment 

Identification of the initial cause is paramount for effective management Physical Restraint of the animal may be enhanced chemically (Xylazine or ACP) Gently cleaning of the rectum and the perineum (vulva in female) with mild disinfectant (diluted Savlon or soapy water) ensuring no or minimal damage to the organ and the surrounding tissue. Remove any necrotic tissue. 


NB: Apply hygroscopic compounds (sugar) - salt is very irritating and should be avoided where possible to reduce the edema fully (patience is of essence). These should be washed off as they are act as good media for microbial growth.

Lubricate with liquid paraffin or any other water soluble gel. Gently and carefully return/replace the rectum to its normal anatomical position. Patience is required. Do not push against peristalsis. If necessary, retention with purse string suture is recommended but normal passage of faeces to be ensured (Local anesthesia required). The Suture should not be left in place for more than 12 hours. Antibiotics and anti-inflammatory should be given when there is need. Treat the underlying cause.

The owner should be advised provide water ad lib and to monitor defaecation


3. Hoof care and Management

Donkeys' feet generally require trimming every 6-10 months dependent on the terrain; owners should be encouraged to check/examine all the four feet on a daily basis to remove debris, stones and other foreign bodies.


Common Hoof Problems

Lameness is caused by pain in some part of the leg. Lameness may be in more than one leg. The foot of the lame leg is held pointing to the ground especially in front leg lameness. There is a difference in amount of muscle in the shoulder of lame leg and normal leg.


a) Pedal Sepsis

Is an acute lameness presenting as non-weight bearing lameness; abscesses frequently track proximally from the white line at the bearing surface to eventually rupturing at the coronary band. It is important to first trim the foot back to a normal length and conformation, exposing a clean bearing surface free of all but deeper lesions; the entire weight bearing surface should then be explored, paying attention to the white line area. Black marks, especially those adjacent to the sole axially are suspicious.


NB: Digital pressure at the coronary band may illicit a response from related distal abscess. One may resect the overlying hoof wall to facilitate drainage; however avoid injury and Prolapse of the underlying sensitive corium.


b) Lainitis

A common problem usually not recognized by the owner which may cause damage to the hoof. Causes are varied and include

  • Excessive feeding of carbohydrate rich feed. E.g. bran 
  • Grain overload
  • Trauma
  • Generalized septicemia/toxemia.

Clinical signs

  • Reluctance to move, recumbency
  • Pain on coronary band 
  • Increased digital artery pressure
  • Weight shifting
  • Weight bearing on heals


  • Remove the cause 
  • Analgesia NSAIDS flunixn- IV, then by mouth- Phenylbutazone
  • ACP

Hoof Care

The hoof grows throughout its life but wears down as it grows. The hoof may overgrow when the animal is rested or injured. When  the hooves are overgrown/ deformed they must be trimmed When severely deformed trimming should be done in two sessions with two weeks gap to  ensure the hoof gets back to its normal shape and angle.


Steps for Hoof trimming

  • Cut the sole back with a sharp knife. Immediately stop cutting when you see a pink color/blood. 
  • Cut the over grown wall using hoof cutter.
  • Use a rasp/file to tidy up the hoof wall
  • Trim the frog using a sharp knife to its normal shape.


Overgrown donkey hooves should be trimmed a month earlier
Overgrown donkey hooves should be trimmed a month earlier

© KENDAT, Kenya



4 Skin Condition and Diseases

a. Swellings under the skin include:

Abscesses, hernia, haematoma, tumour, oedema' etc.


i. Abscess 

This is pus accumulation under the skin.Management of AbscessTreatment is by lancing, cleaning/flushing using diluted hydrogen peroxide and apply diluted iodine- ensure the created wound will be able to drain.


ii. Haematoma 

This is accumulation of blood under the skin due to injury leading to bleeding under the skin. The swelling is soft at first but doesn't pit under pressure. It is less painful than an abscess. An uninfected haematoma should be left alone; as it heals with the blood clots and the serum being absorbed. Infected haematoma is treated in the same way as an abscess.


iii. Tumours 

Sarcoid is a viral skin tumour/cancer that resembles a large hairless warts; it is commonly found on the hairless areas, around genitals, eyes and nostrils. If untreated they enlarge and ulcerated with continuous discharges; they are prone to fly strike. Management is through surgical excision - ensuring the whole mass is removed.


b. Skin diseases 

Skin disease includes changes of the skin due to bacterial, viral and parasitic as well as fungal infections.Common skin diseases include:


i. Bacterial Diseases

  • Dermatophilosis 
  • Glanders
  • Ulcerative lymphangiits
  • Fistulous withers and poll evil 

ii. Viral Diseases

  • Sarcoids

iii. Parasitic Diseases

  • Ticks 
  • Lice and flea
  • Myasis (warbles)
  • Manges


iv. Fungal Diseases

a. Ring worm

This is caused by Trichophyton and Microsporum spp. which tends to grow in circular hairless rings, nodules and abscesses on skin. It is spread by close contact with infected animals/equipments.



  • Avoid contact of infected and uninfected animals/equipments. 
  • Treatment- severe cases of ring worm are treated with anti-fungal creams such or oral griseofulvin (contraindicated in pregnant mares) otherwise most cases recover naturally.


b. Epizootic Lymphangitis

Fungus: Histoplasma fasciminosum: causes lumps and abscesses on skin and mucus membranes, in eyes causes discharges which attracts flies leading to irritation and rubbing of the affected areas.


Prevention and Control 

This can be done by use of anti-fungal drugs and/or surgical removal of nodules or use of Zinc oxide ointment on skin.



5. External Parasites

i. Ticks:

Are large bloods sucking insects that attach to the soft skin under the tail, inside the fore and hind legs and in ears. They transmit blood parasites that cause blood loss and diseases such as Babesiosis.

ii. Lice and fleas

Lice are found usually in the mane and the tail in poorly fed and young animals. They cause itchiness causing the animal to rub and lick itself. Signs will include patchy losses of hair, excessive rubbing, scratching and biting at skin, restlessness, scabs, exudates formation, head shaking.

iii. Mange 

These are parasitic mites that burrow into the skin and cause intense irritation resulting in biting and rubbing by the animal. Mites are characterized by severe irritation, thickened skin with gray scabs and surface flakes


Prevention and treatment 

Mites can be transmitted from one donkey to another by contact or grooming equipment, so avoid contact of animals and using the same grooming material. Mange is treated with Ivermectin (three time each 10 days apart (day o, day 10, day 21).


Control and Prevention of External Parasites

Use of organophosphates such as Stelladone®, Synthetic pyrethroids such as Delete®, Decatix®


NOTE: Amitraz such as Triatix®, Norotraz®, are contraindicated in equines. However there are some farmers who have used amitraz with no side effects reported; this can be achieved if the animal is given adequate water before applying the acaricide. At all times ensure the unit is cleaned and beddings replaced while you control the parasite on the animal. 



6. Internal Parasites

These include:

  • Tape worms
  • Liver flukes
  • Roundworms.

These are variations with different kinds of worms 

Symptoms of worms: 

  • Lethargy 
  • Poor coat
  • Poor condition
  • Anaemia


Removal of faeces from pasture every 2-3 months or rotate grazing to reduce contamination of grazing resulted in a decrease in worm egg counts This is a simple, low cost method of reducing worm burden in donkeys. Keeping animals in fly-proof accommodation for at least part of the day when vector flies are prevalent, can also reduce the incidence.


a. Strogylosis 

Strongyles are found world wide, the larvae cause colic and death. The larvae migrating in the body tissue causes:

  • Pain and colic
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Damage to an artery to the intestine. Adult strongyles are found lining the gut and feed on the animals blood which results in weakness and poor body condition 


In areas where the worm burden is high it is advisable to deworm the donkey after every three or six months intervals. In other instances strategic deworming is the best way of controlling the worms which targets the period when the infective stage of the worm is highest. Treatment: use any of the following: lvermectin orally or Fenbendazole


b. Ascarid worms

These worms don't cause much problem to the adult donkeys except when they block the gut hence causing colic; but poses problem in foals

Clinical signs 

  • Coughing 
  • Weakness and emaciation
  • Unthriftness
  • Adult worms are some times seen in dung

Prevention and treatment

Treat all foals aged eight week and above, by which time the animal would have developed immunity. The drugs of choice are Piperazine or Ivermectin.


c. Tape worms/ Cestodes

These are less harmful to donkeys as compared to round worms. The animal doesn't show overt signs of infection/infestation but in case of large numbers they cause intestinal blockage, colic and caecal perforation.

Note: Diagnosis using the faecal floation method has low sensitivity, due to un-even egg distribution in faeces- though it is highly specific as the tapeworm eggs distinctively angular and readily identified.


Pyrantel or Praziquantel compounds.


d. Liver fluke Disease

The fluke is a leaf-shaped parasite that lives in the bile ducts of the liver. This condition is only found at PM, in a live animal they asymptomatic.

Clinical sign

  • Tiredness 
  • Loss of appetite 
  • Swelling on the skin

Prevention and treatment

  • Avoiding animals grazing in swampy areas is effective prevention method. 
  • Oxyclozanide or triclabendazole are used to treat fluke.


Dewormers/Anthelmintics for donkeys in the Market

Drug Animal use Worms Targeted Efficacy Resistance
Oxyfendazole Cattle, sheep, goats and equines P. equorum -Large and small strongles resistant to other Benzimidazoles Higher plasma concentration comparedto Fenbendazole - Broad spectrum Very high
Ivermectin* (acts on ectoparasite and endoparasite) - relatively expensive Dogs, cats, equine, sheep, cattle, goats Large and small strongles, P. equorum- Arthropods e.g Gasterophilus High - Broad spectrum Medium
Pyrantel Equine  P.equorum, small strongyles Narrow spectrum Medium 
Fenbendazole* Same as Ivermectin P. equorum - Large and small strongles  Low efficacy -Broad spectrum Low 
Piperazine (Cheap and readily available) Avian, bovine, equine P equorum, small strongyles  Very narrow spectrum - Effective on ascarids, poorly effective Low
Albendazole (Highly misused, readily available) Most domestic animals    Broad spectrum -Low efficacy Very high



N.B: Administration of Oxfendazole and Fenbendazole over a number of consecutive days may prove more effective against most resistant parasites than a single administration.


Control and Prevention

  • Strategic deworming 
  • Practice clean pastures/feed management.
  • Frequent use of anthelmintics and sub-optimal dosing may cause resistance.
  • Egg counts to be used as a guide to worming e.g. in treatment of tapeworm this is done when there is positive identification of eggs in faeces.


7. Infectious Diseases

Infectious diseases of equine include viral, bacterial, fungal as well as parasitic disease in broader sense. Here we will consider only certain of these infectious agents.


A. Bacterial Diseases 

a. Strangles 

This disease looks like flu initially with coughing which disappears later. Clinical signs

Early case - High temperature, watery discharge from the nose, coughing Later cases - Cough disappears, difficulty of swallowing, thick, creamy, white pus (nasal discharge)

Treatment - Resting the animal, nursing (offering soft, moist food), and antibiotic (preferably Penicillin based) treatment.


b. Tetanus or Lock Jaw

Caused by Clostridium tetani; it is associated with soil contamination of sores and wounds from ill-fitting harnesses and poor hygiene during surgery.

Clinical signs 

  • History of deep wound(s) which can already be healed completely. 
  • Muscle stiffness and locked jaw-unable to eat and swallow food
  • Dilated pupil
  • The animal has a frightened expression 
  • The ears stickup
  • Respiratory failure and death

Treatment - Use of tetanus toxoid, heavy dose of Penicillin and sedatives, keep the animal in a calm place. Open the suspected wound and flush it with hydrogen peroxide.


Prevention and Control

Can be prevented by complete treatment of wounds and cleanliness/ hygiene in surgical procedures.



B. Viral Diseases a. Flu - Is caused by viruses Clinical features 

  • High temperature.
  • Later on there is coughing
  • Watery discharge from the nostrils which later becomes thicker and yellowish.
  • As time goes on the cough becomes more severe.

Prevention - Vaccination  


B. Fungal Diseases a. Epizootic lymphangitis 

This disease affects equines especially when they are crowded. The infection gets into the body through damage to skin and can be carried by biting flies.

Clinical signs

  • Development of lumps under the skin along the lymphatic stream. 
  • The lumps burst and yellow pus discharges 
  • Emaciation.


  • Affected animals should be kept away from healthy animals. 
  • Harnesses and grooming equipment should be disinfected.
  • Control of insects.
  • Severe cases should be euthanized.


8. Main Respiratory Diseases 

Diseases that affect respiratory system

a) Strangles - This a highly contagious bacterial infection of the equine (as discussed above


 b) Pneumonia: is an inflammation of the bronchioles

The most common complaint in donkeys is pneumonia. This is generally brought abut by poor management practices and working undernourished donkeys too hard for too long. The result is exhaustion and the donkey is not able to deal with the challenge presented by exhaustion, dehydration and cold (at night). This will, inevitably, result in pneumonia


Other causes include:

  • Secondary to viral or bacterial upper respiratory disease
  • Inhalation of foreign material e.g. food, drenched or stomach-tube medicines (aspiration pneumonia) 



  • Reluctance to move. 
  • Arched back. 
  • Head hanging.
  • Shallow/fast breathing.
  • Temperature 


Clinical signs

  • Fever 
  • Increased pulse rate 
  • Increased respiratory rate
  • Coughing 
  • Nasal discharge 



  • Good food. 
  • Plenty water. 
  • At least two weeks complete rest. 
  • Allow animals with respiratory disease to rest and recover properly, before starting heavy work again,
  • Treat secondary bacterial infections early (antibiotics - see below),
  • Avoid drenching equines with wormers, liquid paraffin etc. and use extreme care when passing a stomach tube 

Treatment - Penicillin or Trimethoprim-sulphonamides for at least 7 days, NSAIDs, Rest in a clean, dust-free areas,


c) Lung worms 

  • Lung worms can cause inflammation of the bronchioles in equines 
  • Infection mainly acquired towards end of wet season 


Clinical signs

  • persistent coughing for several months 
  • may have slightly increased respiratory rate and mildly increased lung sound 
  • non-progressive condition 



  • Remove faeces from environment to prevent transmission 
  • Avoid keeping horses with donkeys 
  • If horses are kept with donkeys, treat the donkeys for worms, 
  • Treat regularly for worms(every 3 months)



  • Ivermectin 0.2 mg/kg(1ml/50 kg) or 
  • Fenbendazole 15 mg/kg or
  • Thiabendazole 440 mg/kg and repeat after 2 days


D. Protozal Diseases a. Trypanosomiasis 

A part from the common species of Trypanosoma causing Trypanosomosis in equines; donkeys are also affected by tsetse transmitted Trypanosomosis (T. vivax, T. congolense and T. brucei) commonly referred to as Nagana in cattle. Therefore in tsetse fly endemic areas, donkeys are also at a higher risk and may not the necessary attention as the other domestic livestock. It's usually an acute or chronic disease depending on the species of tsetse fly; these signs are dependent on the nutrition status of the animal, pregnancy status, level of work, level of stress, general health status and any concurrent disease.


Clinical findings

Intermittent fever (comes and goes), weakness and progressive thinness (loss of body weight) tired easily and may stop eating, anaemia/ pale mucus membranes (gums, conjunctiva), swollen lymph nodes, limbs and belly with edema, sensitivity to light, dullness, dragging hind limbs, loss of balance, seizures, head pressing, cycling and paralysis are signs of brain infection.



Use thin and thick blood smear (blood sample take when there is fever and from peripheral venous supply preferably the ears vein.



The drugs used must be used with a lot of caution and be injected deep intramuscularly due to tissue necrosis and toxicity.The Preparation in the market include:

1. Homiduim bromide or Homidium Chloride 1mg/kg bwt example Ethidium and Novidium

.2. Diminazene aceturate (Berenil, Norotryp) can cause nervous signs and death if not carefull used. Dose: 3.5mg/kg

3. Isometamidium chloride: for prophylaxis and curative: use separate needle for filling the syringe and jabbing.

4. Quinapyramine sulfate: prior to its use the donkey must be well rested; fatigue can cause curare like reaction.

NOTE: Trypanocidals do not cross the blood-brain barrier hence once nervous signs have commenced it is inadvisable to treat such an animal but it is imperative for it to be euthanized. Prevention/controlControl the fly on the animal and treat diagnosed cases on time.


b. Babesiosis

Babesiosis is caused by intra-erythrocytic protozoan parasites; Babesia. This is a tick transmitted disease, whose vectors include Hyalomma, Dermacentor and Rhipicephalus ticks; intrauterine infection, particularly with B. equi, is also relatively common.

Clinical findings

The incubation period ranges from 5 - 21 days. The signs include fever (frequently 105.8°F [41°C] or higher), inappetence, increased respiratory rate, muscle tremors, anemia, jaundice, depression, marked thirst, lacrimation, swelling of the eyelids, weight loss; hemoglobinemia and hemoglobinuria occur in the final stages. 


Affected donkeys are constipated, passing small, hard ball of faeces covered with yellow mucus, may loose the health condition. Sometimes donkeys can show colic symptoms viz. looking at flank, pawing, kicking at belly region, lying down and rolling, due to sluggish intestinal peristaltic movements and constipation. 

NB: The most characteristic sign is the development of icterus, mucus membranes vary from pale pink to pale yellow to bright yellow in color. Petechiae or ecchymosed haemorrhages are seen on the mucus membranes of nasal passages, vagina or third eyelids. Extremely large spleen in the affected animals is the common symptom. 


Untreated or neglected cases become severely anemic, malaise, reluctant to move, down neck, inappetence, disinterest in surroundings and show signs of general weakness. Development of progressive anemia and haemoglobinuria in the last clinical phase of the disease is pathognomonic sign in B. equi infection in horses and also in donkeys. Equines usually have higher threshold for escape of haemoglobin through urine from the circulation, hence haemoglobinuria is observed as last irreversible clinical sign signifying nephrosis and subsequent renal failure.


Chronic cases are more common in donkeys and clinical signs are usually non specific including mild inappetence, poor work performance or poor body weight gain. Mixed infections are not uncommon therefore making diagnosis difficult. Clinically, babesiosis can be confused with other conditions that cause fever, anemia, hemolysis, jaundice, or red urine. Therefore, confirmation of a diagnosis by microscopic examination of Giemsa-stained blood or organ smears is essential. From the live animal, thick and thin blood smears should be prepared, preferably from capillaries in the ear or tail tip.


Hemoglobin concentration, PCV level, red blood cell counts reduces significantly in donkeys infected acutely with B. equi parasite. Acute infection is also characterized by severe leucocytosis, lymphopenia, high absolute neutrophils count. Post mortem signs from B.equi include: varying degree of emaciation, gross enlargement of the liver and spleen and flabby kidneys. Small pin point petechiae haemorrhages are also present on liver, spleen and cortical surface of the kidney. Lungs are edematous, congested and enlarged lymph nodes



If equine babesiosis is diagnosed and treated early, there is an excellent chance of recovery. . Imidocarb (Imizol®is a babesiacidal drug that is administered at a dosage of 2.2mg /kg. Two treatments are administered at a 24-hour interval. For cases of Babesia equi that are resistant to therapy, a dose of 4mg /kg is administered 4 times at 72-hour intervals. This regimen is often effective in treating the infection. 



This by control of tick infestations and avoiding iatrogenic transfer of infected blood during routine surgical and medical procedures. 



9. Colic

Colic: means abdominal pain (the stomach or intestine), affecting all equine species; however donkeys show fewer behavioural signs to pain

Causes of colic

This is caused by many different conditions affecting the internal organs. Most cases of colic are associated with poor management practices. The common causes include: 


  • Sudden changes to what the donkey eats, such as overfeeding and irregular feeding- e.g. too much food at once ortoo much grain.
  • Poor quality food, such as moldy hay, or too much dry straw (indigestible roughage 
  • Long gaps between meals 
  • Fresh highly fermentable green fodder that produce gas 


  • Not enough water 
  • Rapid drinking of too much (cold) water 
  • Water not supplied regularly


Internal parasites - Some internal parasites can cause colic.

Poor Teeth - Will lead to large junk of food passing through hence causing blockage.

Sand - the animal may swallow sand if it is grazing on the sandy ground where grass is scanty. The swallowed sand can cause inflammation and impaction in the gut.

Eating strange things - Plastic bags, pieces of ropes and all sorts of rubbish can accumulate along gut and cause colic

Clinical signs of Colic

  • Kicking or looking at flank

  • Sweating

  • Restless

  • Reduced appetite

  • Rolling on the ground

  • Pawing the ground


  • History: to be taken to establish change in management to be noted- change of diet, access to excess feed.

  • Assessment of pain: donkeys don't show overt signs of pain- so colic may not be identified until the terminal stages of disease. A donkey in pain will stand with its head lowered, lie down or not respond as normal and may be dull. Dullness is the most common sign of impactive colic followed by reduced appetite.

  • Heart rate: goes up from about 44/min to 60/min in donkeys with impaction colic while other types of colic cause heart rates upto 60-100/min.

  • Respiratory rate: severe abdominal pain may increase the respiratory rate in an apparent attempt to reduce the movement of the diaphragm and chest

  • Rectal temperature: increase maybe due to physical exertion or infection.

  • Appetite: must be assessed in a dull donkey as it might be the only sign of colic.


Aimed to relieve pain, correct dehydration and restore the normal passage of ingesta.

  • Pain relief: use of nasogastric intubation will help relieve pain, use of NSAIDs e.g. Flunixin meglumine 
  • Correcting dehydration: rapid rehydration IV will restore circulatory blood volume and improve tissue perfusion; will correct shock due to absorption of endotoxin through a compromised intestinal wall
  • Making an impacted donkey move or eat fresh grass may make the animal pass ingesta. Avoid long fibres such as hay and straw until the normal transit of ingesta is established.
  • Impaction colic can be managed by use oral laxatives, mild analgesics, IV/oral fluids. Administration of mineral oil to caecal impaction is less effective than in treatment of large colon impaction because the oil can pass straight into colon without penetrating the caecal mass.

Prevention of colic

  • Feed small quantity of good quality food at regular intervals 
  • Do not prevent the horse from eating for a long period, and then let it eat a lot 
  • Avoid grain overfeeding 
  • Offer water little and frequently 
  • Deworm regularly (every 3 months)
  • Check teeth regularly and rasp accordingly


10. Zoonoses

Zoonosis: is any infectious disease that can be transmitted to humans by vertebrate animals e.g. rabies, anthrax, glanders


1. Rabies 

  • Rabies is a fatal viral infection in mammals and is transmitted in saliva.

  • Rabies is fatal to humans so extreme care must be taken when handling any suspected case

  • Transmission - Equines are infected via a bite from a rabid animal (dog,donkey or other animals)

  • Clinical signs

  • Divided into the furious (encephalitis) and dumb (paralytic) forms; the disease usually is a combination of both- signs will include

  • Change of behaviour, colic, self mutilation especially on the external genitalia, grinding the teeth, foaming at the mouth, paresis or spastic or flaccid paralysis in one or more limbs and convulsion.

  • Hydrophobia

Message to the owners

  • Any animal showing abnormal behaviour or after being bitten by a dog should be isolated in a secure place 
  • If a donkey is bitten by a suspected rabid dog, it is recommended to immediately wash the wound generously with soap and water without touching the area. Gloves required


2. Anthrax

  • Anthrax is an bacterial infection of blood

  • Other species suddenly die of the disease, but horses and donkeys may be ill for a long time and not always die.

    Clinical signs

  • high temperature (41oc)

  • high pulse rate

  • large swelling around the belly

    Transmission - Animals can get the disease when they eat a bit of contaminated soil with grass.


  • Vaccination

  • Avoid that vultures, dogs, etc. can have contact with the blood by burying animals died from anthrax very deep.

    Treatment - Give injections of antibiotics such as penicillin


Principle of Vaccination 

  • Vaccine is a harm less form of microorganisms (virus, bacteria) administered to the animals orally or parentally. 
  • Due to vaccine/ antigen introduced into the bodies, the animal produces antibodies to protect the animal against the same disease.
  • Vaccines are either live or dead requiring their own handling methods
  • Antibody formation requires at least two to three weeks


Vaccination Protocol

  • When a vaccine is introduced in to the body, it forms immunity in the body of the animal 
  • Vaccination is a preventive method from different contagious and infectious diseases and not curative 
  • Vaccination plays a roll in the eradication of infectious diseases.
  • Vaccinate only healthy animals as well as those presented to vet clinic for treatment.
  • Vaccinate all equines starting from 6 weeks old including pregnant mare 


3. Glanders

The disease affects the skin and lungs. Horses are resistant to glanders but mules and donkeys die within two weeks

Clinical Signs

  • Fever

  • Watery nasal discharge initial but later on the discharge gets thicker.

  • Lumps appear in the nostril and break open. After healing the lump leaves a star-shaped scar in the nostril. The burst lump also releases a sickly honey-like discharge.

    Treatment: sulphadiazine.


Handling of vaccines

Storage: great care should be taken in case of storage Live vaccine should be stored in the refrigerator at -20 degree centigrade; while the killed vaccine can be stored at +4 degree centigrade for two years & at room temp. 20 - 21 degree centigrade for 6 months

Some equine diseases that need vaccination & the doses of vaccine to be given 

  • A.H.S ------------------1cc for adult animals and 1.5 cc for young 
  • Anthrax----------------- 1cc for adult animal and 1.5 cc for young 
  • Tetanus---------------- 1cc for adult animal and 1.5 cc for young



11. Teeth Problems

Conditions affecting the teeth include sharp edges and overgrown teeth which may affect the ability of the donkey to chew

Tooth rasping

Animals with no clinical signs may still have sharp or damaged teeth that may cause problem later. Older animals may need rasping every 3-6 month

Clinical signs of tooth problem include

  • Thin animal, dropping food (in balls), reluctance to eat, increased salivation, foul smell from the mouth


A donkey undergoing treatment
A donkey undergoing treatment

© KENDAT, Kenya



How to rasp 

1. It is important to use rasping instrument/ equipments and mouth gag for teeth rasping. The mouth gag if available can be used to examine all of the molar teeth , palate ,upper jaw , lower jaw , cheeks tongue etc.

2. Things to examine are sharp edges, hooks, spikes broken or missing teeth.

3. Sharp edged teeth must be rasped until it comes to the level.


Horse Sickness

Donkeys seem to be reasonably immune to this disease and, when it does present itself, it is usually takes a much milder form than in horses. However, it should be treated with respect. If the donkey is allowed to rest for 3 weeks recovery is usually spontaneous. It is prevalent after the rains when mosquitoes are more prevalent. 


  • Swollen eye sockets, under the jaw and, sometimes, in the sheath area
  • Liquid dripping from nose and mouth
  • Signs of colic (discomfort)
  • The donkey may still graze naturally, but it will become weak and show a reluctance to work.


  • 3 weeks complete rest. 
  • Provide good grazing with shade available.
  • Provide plenty of fresh water. 
  • Use 'wet smoke fires' at night. These not only keep livestock free from mosquitoes (including those that are suspected of spreading Rift Valley Fever), they benefit humans too. 
  • Use damp grass/manure as fuel and place in a container (a half drum is excellent). This will create smoke instead of flames. It is very effective against all flying insects. 
  • If the farmer has pyrethrum on his farm, a few dry flowers added to the top of the fire are a huge benefit. If managed sympathetically, recovery is usually spontaneous


Mud Fever

Mud fever, which is extremely painful, is only seen in the wet weather or when animals are left standing in wet, muddy conditions. In sheep, goats and cattle this will result in foot rot. In donkeys it will result in mud fever. Mud fever is a group of diseases causing irritation and dermatitis in the lower limbs. Often caused by a mixture of bacteria, typically Dermatophilus congolensis, and Staphylococcus spp, mud fever can also be caused by fungal organisms (dermatophytes). Photosensitization, chorioptic mange mites, contact dermatitis and other conditions also contribute to some cases.

Resulting in painful sores and scabs, which in severe cases can make a donkey lame, mud fever most commonly affects the pastern and heel area but can also affect the upper leg, the belly, and in some cases the neck and back (also known as Rain Scald). Non-pigmented skin tends to be more severely affected.

Muddy, wet fields are conditions in which mud fever thrives. As with any bacterial infection, Mud Fever can become a very serious condition very quickly. The legs can become swollen and sore and open sores can become quickly infected. Often, such is the level of damage to the skin that these open sores can become very difficult to heal. The donkey will be very reluctant to move as this is very painful.

 Under normal circumstances the skin acts as a protective barrier, preventing microorganisms from entering the donkeys system and doing any damage. However, the integrity of the epidermis can become compromised through the abrasion of soil grit on cold, wet skin. The continual wetting of the skin causes a breakdown of the protective barrier of the epidermis, allowing the bacterium to enter and cause infection 


  • Swelling of the affected area
  • Heat and small scabs
  • Listlessness and fever
  • Reluctance to move
  • In severe cases the affected area will ulcerate and the skin will split causing the possibility of secondary infections


  • Keeping the donkey out of the wet and mud is the first step in treatment of mud fever 
  • Initial treatment also consists of clipping of the hair away from the infected area and use of an anti-bacterial lotion on the scabs to soften them and gently remove them. 
  • When the scabs are removed, the skin must be kept clean and dry. Washing the infected area with an antiseptic solution (a hydrogen peroxid solution - never neat as this will cause further damage) is part of the treatment for mud fever. 
  • The legs should be dried thoroughly after washing and then sprayed with Alamycin spray (commonly known as 'dawa blue' in East Africa) which is readily available and affordable in East Africa. 
  • The donkey will need a treatment of 5 days Penstrep antibiotic (readily available in East Africa).
  • A Veterinary Surgeon should be consulted for further treatment.

False beliefs and myths about donkeys



© S. Fontana, Biovision


Different communities hold different myths and false beliefs about donkeys. Some of them are simply unrealistic. These myths and beliefs should not discourage you from taking good care of your donkey. Below are some examples of false beliefs and myths:

1. If a donkey gets sick it will die no matter what you do to it.

Fact: If a donkey is sick like any other animal it needs adequate medical attention. It needs to be fed well and given plenty of water to replace lost fluid. In a short while, it will be up and about.

2. A donkey will die not worked hard every day

Fact: A donkey is a very hard working animal. For maximum output, it requires enough rest, adequate feeding and watering. When not working it is important to remove the harness so it can rest in comfort.

3. If you get in contact with a donkey's dung you will contract tetanus.

Fact: Tetanus is caused by bacteria, which is abundant in equine faeces (including donkey dung) and in the soil. Because of their tendency to roll on the ground, donkeys often contract tetanus if they have open wounds which get in contact with the dung or the soil.We can only get infected if we have open wounds that get in contact with the dung. The good news is that we vaccinate our donkeys and even ourselves against tetanus.

4. A donkey can only feed at night because during the day it is supposed to be working.

Fact: Working donkeys use large amounts of energy during the cause of their working day. They therefore need quality, high-energy foods to maintain their body condition. Maximum food intake improves body condition and enables the donkey to work more efficiently

5. If you don't work a donkey hard it will become hostile and unfriendly

FactA well cared for donkey is friendly and a nice companion at work.

 6. Every new donkey has to get wounds before it gets used to the new work it does.

Fact: Donkeys are very courteous and have a high sense of self preservation. It is difficult to force or frighten a donkey to its own best interest. They should therefore be trained to take on new tasks instead of being forced with beatings and caning

7. If cows are kept in the same enclosure with donkeys the cows will become infertile 

Fact: It is just a misplaced fear that donkey's presence contaminates the cows and impacts on their fertility. Animals are social; they live together and blend naturally. Unlike other domestic animals, donkeys get low priority when it comes to allocation of resources. Thus, if cows and donkeys are housed together and given feed, chances are that the donkey will access most of the food leaving the cows with less food and will therefore be less productive.

8. If a donkey gets blind grid glass bottle and put the glass powder in the eye. It will clean the cloudy cornea to heal.

Fact: A donkey with an eye problem may lead to the clouding of the eye. This may be caused by dust, pollution or flies. At the earliest sign of discharge, redness or cloudiness, take the animal for treatment. Delay may cause the condition to get worse and the donkey may become blind. Do not home remedies to treat the eyes as they can damage the sensitive structures and cause blindness. Ground glass will puncture the eye leading to blindness. 



© S. Fontana, Biovision



Performance and capabilities of donkeys

The size of a donkey is a limitation to the amount of work that it can do. Most adult African donkeys range  in weight from 90-210 kg, which is less than the live weight of most cattle used for draft work (Pearson and Ouassat, 1996; Nengomasha, Jele and Pearson, 1995). However, if donkeys are well managed they can do many of the tasks undertaken by oxen, provided that they are teamed in sufficient numbers to provide the necessary draft force.

It has been shown that well-fed, well-trained donkeys teamed in fours are capable of sustaining a combined draft force of over 1 kN for a 4-hour working period. This power output is sufficient to plow relatively deep soil with a mould board plow, as well as complete most other agricultural tasks associated with crop production, in an acceptable time. However, animals are not always in such good condition, nor is it always possible to use a team of four animals. These problems can be alleviated by improving the management of the animals to improve the power supply or by reducing the demand for power by modifying the implements or tillage practices.



Sadly, donkeys have very little market value in East Africa. They are, generally, valued at the same rate as a meat goat (between 3 - 5 thousand shillings). If donkeys had more value attached to them, they would be better cared for and owners would take more interest in their breeding and management methods.If one considers the value of the produce that a donkey carries in its working lifetime, it is obvious that it is a very undervalued asset to a farmer. If the owners of donkeys realized just how valuable an asset they had, they would pay more attention to whom they 'contracted' this 'car on leg'.

Information Source Links

  • ADMS, the American Donkey and Mule Society.
  • Blench, R. 2000. The History and Spread of Donkeys in Africa. Animal Traction Network for Eastern and Southern Africa (ATNESA) 
  • Clutton-Brook, J. 1999. A Natural History of Domesticated Mammals. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521634954 
  • Huffman, B. 2006. The Ultimate Ungulate Page: Equus asinus. (accessed November 2017).
  • International Museum of the Horse (IMH). 1998. Donkey. (accessed December 3, 2006). 
  • KENDAT Heshima Punda team Kenya
  • Luurt, O. (2004). Donkeys for traction and tillage. Agrodok 35. Agromisa Foundation, Wageningen. ISBN: 90-77073-95-7
  • Nowak, R. M., and J. L. Paradiso. 1983. Walker's Mammals of the World. Baltimore, Maryland, USA : The Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 0801825253 
  • Oklahoma State University (OSU). 2006. Breeds of Livestock. (accessed December 3, 2006).
  • Starkey, P. and M. Starkey. 1997. Regional and World trends in Donkey Populations. Animal Traction Network for Eastern and Southern Africa (ATNESA) 
  • The Donkey Sanctuary (DS). 2015. Donkey and Mule Care Handbook
  • Val Corr, Lake Breeze Farm Naivasha - Kenya
  • Wikipedia - Donkeys

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