Donkey Diet

By The Veterinary Department at The Donkey Sanctuary

In their natural habitat donkeys are lean, fit animals browsing on fibrous plant material, eating small quantities throughout the day and often walking considerable distances. A well balanced high fibre diet is ideal for maintaining a healthy donkey in the correct body condition.

  • It is a good idea to learn to body score your donkey. Weigh him regularly on livestock scales where these are readily available or measure with a girth measure. A gradual change in weight can then be identified if the measurement is undertaken monthly and then feed adjusted accordingly.
  • To estimate your donkey’s weight measure the heart girth and also the height at the withers. Then by using the heart girth/height chart read off the donkey’s weight e.g. a donkey 110cm tall and with a heart girth 130cm should weigh 217kg.
  • Most donkeys, even those undertaking limited exercise, will only require a maintenance ration. Only underweight, old or sick individuals usually need any form of concentrate feeding. Grass, hay, straw with an equine mineral salt lick and water will be all that most healthy donkeys require.
  • Please see our leaflet on “Feeding hay and some alternatives” if you require more information on other foodstuffs.
  • Any change in your donkey’s diet should be made gradually, and concentrates are better fed in small, frequent feeds rather than simply once a day. If an underweight donkey fails to gain weight despite extra feed, then a veterinary and dental examination is likely to be necessary.
  • Any donkey that is not grazing or is stabled should be given small amounts of feed throughout the day.
  • All feed, whether hay, straw or purchased feed should be of good quality and never spoiled or mouldy. Particular care should be taken with the feeding and bedding of donkeys with respiratory diseases, particularly those caused by an allergy e.g. to fungal spores.
  • When donkeys are at pasture their daily care should not be forgotten. (See grazing.) Excessive grazing and overfeeding with insufficient exercise is all too common in donkeys kept in the UK. Obesity is associated with a number of serious problems and diseases. Prevention is better than cure, and dieting an overweight donkey is not an easy task.
  • It is often helpful to feed straw as it increases the fibre content of the diet. However, old donkeys with worn or missing teeth may be unable to chew straw adequately.

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