Donkeys – health

Information about disease prevention and signs of illness in donkeys.

Administering treatments

Approved activities Category
water 2
topical – backline 3
topical – spray 3
oral – drench 3
oral – intramuscular 3

Donkeys need to be protected against internal and external parasites and pathogenic and metabolic diseases. The risks will vary depending on the geographic location, stocking rates, history of the animals’ health, frequency of stock movement and seasonal weather conditions. Treatments and vaccines should be administrated in accordance with directions and records should be kept. Disease control and parasite control programs should be developed in consultation with a veterinarian.

It is important to consider that animals purchased from elsewhere may not have had regular health care or may have a history of poor health or parasite burden which can affect how they respond to treatment.

Effective disease protection involves undertaking regular preventative measures such as vaccination, worming and monitoring. Regular cleaning of water and feed containers, controlling insects, rats and mice in feed areas and keeping all bedding clean and dry will help prevent infection. Regular paddock rotation is a good method of reducing risk of bacterial spore build up that can result in clostridial diseases. Sick animals must be separated from the rest of the herd immediately. New animals must be quarantined in a separate yard or paddock prior to introducing to the herd.


Donkeys require a similar worming routine to horses. Most oral ivermectin based equine worming products are effective provided the correct dose is given for the donkeys weight. ‘Razor’ is an equine drench available in most feed stores that is appropriate for use in donkeys. They should be wormed every 3 - 6 months or when required following a faecal egg count, using an oral drench paste or granules in the feed.

Foals should first be drenched at 8 weeks of age, and then 6-8 weekly until 6 months of age. Worm paste is given by weight. Ensure donkeys receive the correct amount of worm paste as directed on the specific wormer, for their weight. As a general rule, it is better to overdose than underdose.

In a school system where donkeys are confined to a smaller space with limited paddock rotation, worm counts can easily build up and worms may be a greater issue than in situations where stocking rates are lower and regular paddock rotations possible. The entire herd should be regularly drenched. A worming program should be designed with the help of a veterinarian and should include faecal worm tests, rotation of drenches, rotation of grazing and documentation of strategies and results.

It is not recommended to use rotational grazing with horses as they share many parasites with donkeys. A further issue to be aware of when keeping donkeys and horses together is that lungworm can be harboured without problems in donkeys, but in horses they can cause severe disease. Therefore, it is important to ensure horses and donkeys kept together are up to date with worming. Ask your vet for more details of what products to use to ensure protection against lungworm.

Where donkeys kept in yards, faeces must be cleaned very regularly and area must be kept dry.


Veterinarians can provide advice on vaccination regimes that are appropriate for the individual donkeys in the school herd based on their age and vaccination history, however if the vaccination history of a donkey is unknown, it is best to assume that it is unvaccinated.

In Australia, donkeys are vaccinated against tetanus and strangles. Equivac 2 in 1 is a vaccine used for horses and donkeys to control tetanus and strangles and is available from most produce stores, horse equipment shops and vet clinics.

Full protection is achieved if the donkeys receive the required primary vaccination at approximately three months of age followed by annual boosters. Further advice can be obtained from the Equine Infectious Diseases Advisory Board.

Using chemicals

Whenever chemicals are used including drenches, vaccines and back-line treatments, care must be taken about the following:

  • Reading all labels
  • Maintaining appropriate storage
  • Adhering to withholding periods
  • Determining the weight of the animals to be treated
  • Determining the correct dose rate
  • Using protective clothing if required
  • Using the correct equipment for application
  • Disposal of chemical containers
  • Documenting the dose, chemical name, batch number, expiry date, withholding period, identity of animal(s) administered to and date of administration.

Signs of illness

It is important to have good knowledge of the disease status of animals prior to bringing them onto the school farm. This may involve records of vaccinations, treatments for parasites and if applicable, blood tests.

It always advisable to quarantine new donkeys from existing donkeys for a period of time. This allows for time for observation for any signs of illness or parasite infestations.

The first sign of illness in a donkey may be lethargy or listlessness. On closer examination a sick donkey may show signs of:

  • abnormal body temperature
  • changed gastrointestinal function, e.g. diarrhoea, change in appetite
  • urogenital function problems such as abortion or infertility
  • abnormal respiratory function such as coughing, gasping or panting
  • unusual skin conditions such as lesions and abnormal growths
  • tucked up appearance, stiff gait, unusual posture, patchy coat, loss of hair
  • excessive scratching or rubbing
  • swollen joints or lameness.
  • pale gums

Donkeys failing to thrive or grow is also a sign of illness. If unable to identify the problem and begin suitable treatment, assistance should be sought from a veterinarian who has experience with donkeys.

Any illness identified and treatments given must be recorded appropriately.


Donkeys can be prone to laminitis. Most it is caused by excessive feed intake and results in inflammation of the ‘laminae’, the sensitive soft tissue structure inside the hoof that joins the pedal bone to the hoof wall. As a result, the pedal bone loses its support and becomes unstable. The bone can rotate or move downwards within the hoof, causing pain and irreversible damage.

Donkeys with access to excessive amounts of high-quality feed can be prone to laminitis and therefore feed intake should be controlled and they should be closely monitored for signs of laminitis.

Common signs/indicators of laminitis include:

  • Lameness or short steps
  • Favouring soft ground
  • Lying down for extended periods of time
  • Lethargy
  • Heat in the hooves
  • Excessive weight gain or fatty deposits on the neck and rump including a crest on the neck
  • Shifting of weight when standing
  • Strong digital pulse in fetlocks.

If laminitis is suspected, donkeys should have their feed restricted and replaced with low quality roughage such as straw and be provided with soft ground or bedding. A veterinarian should be contacted immediately to create a management plan and pain relief if required. Cold hosing and icing of the hooves can provide pain relief and help to reduce inflammation.

More information on laminitis in donkeys can be found at Feeding your donkeys

Hoof care

Donkey hooves require trimming by a qualified farrier approximately every 8 weeks. If hooves are growing quickly or showing signs of cracks or abnormalities, a farrier may be required more regularly.

Farrier examining a donkeys hoof Farrier examining a donkeys hoof
Image: Donkey hooves require trimming by a qualified farrier

Dental care

Donkeys’ teeth should be checked by a qualified equine dentist or veterinarian every one to two years. If you notice a donkey dropping partly chewed clumps of grass or hay, this is a sign they may be due for a dental treatment. Unexpected weight loss can also be a sign of dental problems.


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