Updated November 5, 2020
If you are planning on providing lifelong care for donkeys, either in a sanctuary or microsanctuary environment, the hands-on training you’ll need and the standard care practices you must develop for your residents are much more rigorous than what non-sanctuary donkey resources may have led you to believe! Taking in donkeys without having the appropriate skills and policies in place could threaten their health and well-being, as well as the health of other residents at your sanctuary.
This introductory resource is not intended to dissuade you from rescue, but merely provide a perspective on what a sanctuary must be able to commit to in order to provide the best life for a donkey.
Donkey Care That Should Be Taught By An Expert
Responsible donkey care means being able to fully understand and perform safe handling and healthcare techniques, as well as being able to react rapidly and effectively in the event of an emergency. Anyone who is in charge of regularly providing care to donkeys should be taught the following techniques from a compassionate donkey care expert or a qualified veterinarian. Remember, donkeys have care needs that are different than horses!
- Performing a donkey health examination: All of the donkeys in your care need to be regularly examined from their head to their hooves in order to catch any health problems early on for successful treatment. An expert or veterinarian can give you hands-on training so you can give examinations quickly, efficiently, and with the least stress possible for the donkey.
- Safely being around and handling a donkey: There are a number of nuances that an expert must demonstrate for you in order to prevent potentially serious health and safety consequences from mishandling a donkey or misjudging their behavior. Certain individual donkeys may require unique handling techniques, due to their size, personality, history of trauma, or health status.
- Understanding the safe range of joint motions in donkeys: When performing health examinations on donkeys, it’s important to check their leg and joint flexibility and check for signs of pain, infection, inflammation, or arthritis. You must have an expert demonstrate for you how to check the range of motion in their bodies without causing injury and teach you what a healthy donkey looks and feels like. This way, you can be the best advocate possible for them if something feels or looks amiss.
- Evaluating a donkey’s foot and hoof health: Donkeys can develop a number of foot and hoof problems throughout their lives, either as a result of overgrown hooves, environmental problems, infection, or old age. Failing to identify donkey foot issues early could lead to permanent injury and a greatly reduced quality of life for the individual donkey.
- Evaluating a donkey’s droppings: Abnormal donkey droppings can be a warning sign that something is amiss in them, be it a problem with their nutrition, an illness, or a parasitic infection. It’s important to learn what healthy donkey poop typically looks like for the individual donkeys in your care throughout the day so that abnormalities can be caught and evaluated early on. Early intervention for many donkey health issues can be lifesaving.
- Cleaning and trimming a donkey’s hooves: Regular cleaning and safe trimming are health essentials for donkeys that someone at your sanctuary must be able to regularly perform, or a farrier must be regularly available to perform trimming. Improper technique could hurt or permanently injure a donkey. Like horses, a sanctuary donkey does not generally need to wear shoes except as recommended by a veterinarian to treat illness or injury.
- Foot illness management in donkeys: Foot illnesses such as thrush are highly common in donkeys. If left untreated, the illness could cause permanent damage. Treatment is dependent on the kind of infection and how much its progressed into the donkey’s foot. Failure to learn appropriate foot and hoof treatment techniques could potentially lead to greater health problems than the infection itself.
- Treating mites, flies, parasites, and lice in donkeys: Although it may seem straightforward to treat individuals for these problems, you should have someone demonstrate dosage and technique until you are fully comfortable with treatment (and know when not to treat for parasites to prevent resistant strains from propagating). Some donkeys may become seriously ill or die if they are exposed to too much pesticide or anti-parasitic medication. Flies around donkeys must also be managed with effective strategies, as they can spread serious diseases like pink eye.
- Handling colic: You must learn exactly what to do if a donkey is suffering from severe colic, including rapid evaluation and response if necessary. If a donkey is exhibiting signs of extreme distress, you may have a limited time to administer lifesaving treatment. A veterinarian may not to be able to come to you in time, so caregivers must receive training on what to do long before any emergencies.
- Pilling and gastric intubation for donkeys: You must be shown how to safely administer a pill to a donkey without causing them undue stress or accidentally choking them. Gastric intubation (such as to intervene in cases of colic or grain poisoning) absolutely must be taught by an expert. The threshold for lethal mistakes is very high due to their biology.
Necessary Practices For Responsible Donkey Guardianship
In order to provide the best care possible for donkeys, you must have the proper policies and practices in place, in addition to providing them with the best environment and nutrition possible.
- Establishing regular record keeping policies for donkeys: Keeping detailed records of donkey residents from intake until they leave your sanctuary is a crucial part of giving them the best healthcare as well as providing an extra layer of legal protection to your sanctuary in certain circumstances.
- Creating and following a new donkey arrival protocol: Herd safety means following practical biosecurity and quarantine guidelines when you bring a new resident donkey onto your sanctuary grounds. Failing to have an appropriate intake process could pose a serious risk to your residents.
- Daily checkups for each individual: Although it does not have to be as rigorous as a health examination, each of the individual donkeys you take in must be visually looked over at least once a day (such as during feeding time) to watch out for early signs of illness or other health concerns. It is not responsible to take in donkeys and not be able to provide this minimum standard of care for each of them.
- Advocating for alternatives to donkey riding: There are many ways to enjoy time with donkeys, help them get the exercise they need, and build a special human-donkey bond that doesn’t rely on riding, which can cause a host of welfare problems.
- Establishing a vaccine protocol: Talk to your veterinarian to see what vaccines they recommend based on your area. Many sanctuaries vaccinate for Rabies, Tetanus, Encephalomyelitis, and West Nile. Depending on your location and the age and risk level of your resident equines, vaccinations for Herpesvirus, Strangles, and Influenza should be considered as well. Be sure your veterinarian fully understands your mission and how the sanctuary functions. There are certain vaccines that might be recommended to most of their clients, but are not necessary for donkeys who will never breed or who spend most of their lives at the sanctuary rather than frequently going to exhibitions where they are exposed to many other animals with unknown backgrounds.
- Regular fecal testing of donkeys: donkeys can fall victim to a host of dangerous ailments and diseases that may not present symptoms visibly until they’re too late to treat. You must create a fecal testing schedule and follow it for all donkeys in order to head off health challenges early on.
- Creating a plan for isolation or quarantine: If a donkey becomes ill or injured and needs time away from the rest of your residents to heal or prevent the spread of disease, you will need an appropriate area reserved to isolate them. Without space to isolate an ill or injured resident, you risk the spread of disease or further injury to the individual.
What You Must Provide For Donkeys
Responsible donkey care means making sure that their food, water, and shelter is provided and maintained to a high standard. Many home donkey setups are not designed with the donkey’s best interest in mind and cannot be assumed to be an ideal living space for them. Similarly, the nutrition you provide for them should be considered in terms of what works best for them, rather than what’s easiest!
- Providing appropriate living spaces for donkeys: You must give donkeys an appropriate home, with sunlight, clean air, appropriate temperature and humidity control, and donkey-safe fencing. They should have a safe place to roam and run, and enjoy enriching activities. Forcing donkeys to live in cramped, dark, muddy, dirty, icy, or dangerous conditions is unacceptable. You should never take in so many donkeys that they lack adequate personal space! In addition, if your region gets very cold, you must provide extra care for donkeys in the cold season, including a place to comfortably escape the elements and safe blanketing if necessary.
- Providing appropriate food, water, and supplementation for donkeys: You must feed donkeys a healthy diet suited to their individual needs. They need clean water that doesn’t freeze over in the winter, appropriate forage or hay, minerals, and, depending on your residents’ specific needs, nutritional supplementation. It’s unacceptable to knowingly feed them food that causes health problems or excessive weight gain. You must be willing to adjust their food and supplementation if a donkey needs their diet modified to rectify health challenges as well.
- Regular cleaning and maintenance of donkey living spaces: You must establish and follow a regular cleaning schedule for the area where donkeys live and sleep. Ignoring regular cleaning and bedding replacement can cause donkeys to develop a host of easily avoidable illnesses such as thrush, parasites, or social challenges like bullying.
- Protecting residents from predators: It is unacceptable to create living spaces that do not offer responsible protection from regional predators. You must implement strategies to prevent predators from entering their living space and regularly review the effectiveness of your efforts. Familiarize yourself with the various predators in your area to assess whether or not certain residents should be closed in overnight for additional protection. Young foals are especially vulnerable, so it’s a good idea to close them into a safe space overnight until they get a bit bigger.
- Creating and maintaining indoor living spaces with rodent-proofing in mind: Just as you must protect your residents from predators, it is important to create indoor living spaces that discourage or make it difficult for rodents to take up residence in them. Mice and rats can not only potentially spread disease to residents, they can also cause safety issues by damaging electrical wires (which could result in a fire) or getting into insulation (and creating opportunities for residents to ingest insulation). Severe rat infestations can also result in physical harm to vulnerable residents such as young foals or individuals with mobility issues. Be sure to design the space so that any insulation and electrical wires are contained in such a way that rodents cannot access them, avoid (or regularly check) gaps that could easily be turned into a cozy nest, and make sure any supplies that may attract rodents are sealed in metal bins (especially food or sweetened minerals). Making the space completely “rodent-proof” likely is not possible since the space will be open for residents to come and go for at least a portion of the day, but you can take steps to make it less likely that they will build themselves a cozy home inside your residents’ home.
- Regular hardware disease mitigation: You need to keep donkeys safe from hardware disease by regularly checking their areas for potentially dangerous materials that they may ingest.
- Honoring the needs of younger or older donkeys: donkeys that are very young or older have unique care needs that must be accommodated in order to thrive. You should not take in donkeys with special care requirements until you understand what they need and have an environment and policies in place for them!
- Providing appropriate veterinary care and medication for donkeys: When you give sanctuary to a donkey, you are committing to providing them a high quality of life and individual care. Part of this means having a qualified equine veterinarian who understands donkey care and is willing to treat health problems, manage pain, and provide compassionate end of life care when necessary. It is unacceptable to take in donkeys and deny them medical attention or withhold pain management.
This is not an exhaustive list of everything you must know and provide for donkeys in a sanctuary environment. Individual donkeys may have their own needs and challenges that require additional training and policies to give them the best life possible!