Donkey Skin Conditions


In the summer flies can cause great distress and irritation.

  • They can spread infection especially around the eyes.
  • Lay eggs in wounds.
  • Some donkeys suffer large swellings when bitten.

To prevent fly worry, good management includes:

  • Removing manure frequently and siting muck heaps as far away from stables as possible.
  • Provide field shelters.
  • Use fly fringes/nets/meshes on headcollars.
  • Insecticides can be used to kill flies.
  • Fly repellent can be used on the donkey – a number of preparations are available – some chemical, some herbal. Always read and follow the safety data for the product purchased.


Culicoides midges cause the condition ‘sweet-itch’ in hypersensitive (or allergic) donkeys. The midges are very active at dawn and dusk and their bites cause intense irritation to the donkey, leading to excess rubbing – especially on the mane and tail areas. The sore areas often bleed, attracting more insects.

Again prevention is most effective but can be difficult.

  • Stable the donkey at dawn and dusk.
  • Use fly repellents daily.

Soothing lotions such as Benzyl Benzoate may help if the area is raw. Steroid injections to prevent inflammation are not recommended, due to the high risk of inducing laminitis.


There are a number of mites that cause intense irritation. Some types live on the donkey, others live in hay and straw. They cause irritation by biting, usually on the lower legs or around the head and neck. Your vet may be able to find these on skin samples – various insecticide preparations are available.


These are mainly found in winter and unlike mites are quite easy to see with the naked eye. They are often found in large numbers and cause rubbing and hair loss. A number of anti-louse preparations are available and will need to be used more than once to kill off any unhatched eggs.


In the UK ticks are found especially in certain areas e.g. the New Forest, with areas of long grass. Usually ticks cause mild irritation at the site of the bite, but they can be implicated in the spread of Lymes disease. Most insecticides or anti-flea preparations will kill them. If pulled out, leaving the head in, an area of irritation can persist.

Rain Scald and Mud Fever

Both of these conditions occur when the skin/hair is wet for a long time, so they mainly occur in winter. Rain scald affects the shoulders/back and rump, while mud fever affects the lower limbs. The organism responsible is dermatophilus and causes crusting and matting of the hair coat. When the hair coat is pulled out there is pus beneath the scabs. Treatment involves antiseptic washes, good hygiene and dry conditions. A course of antibiotics is often required so your vet will need to see the donkey.


This fungal skin condition is contagious and, if suspected, call your vet for advice and treatment. Lesions sometimes appear as circles with hair loss, but can take different forms and become widespread. Although it will resolve in 6-12 weeks, treatment should be followed to limit the spread. Usually washes are used on the donkey and the environment should be disinfected.


Sarcoids are skin growths that can take a variety of forms, from flat to profuse ‘warty’ masses. They can be hard to remove completely and often recur. Veterinary treatment will be needed for these, although some small lesions may be best left alone.


Donkeys with pink, unpigmented skin may burn in summer and require daily high factor sun-block application. Some donkeys will also develop sensitivity to the sun if they have liver disease or have eaten certain plants e.g. St John’s Wort. As you cannot tell clinically which condition is present, a blood sample is recommended.

There are many other skin problems, which are less common and will need veterinary advice to diagnose and treat.

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