Determining how long an animal can live depends on many different factors, especially when talking about an animal as diverse as the donkey! Below, you will find some important differences in donkeys, their ideal environments, and what common health problems affect donkeys.
Donkeys are a very long-term commitment as they commonly outlive most horses. There is a reason the term “donkey years” means a long time!
The average lifespan of a domestic donkey in an ideal environment is from 27 to 40 years. There are many factors of care and environment that can impact this lifespan, however.
Donkeys form strong bonds and are very social. An ideal environment for any donkey includes one or more companions of similar size.
Sizes of Donkeys
Why is size important when talking about these animals? Because they come in a wide array of sizes from miniature to mammoth!
Miniature donkeys (or Mediterranean Miniatures) are a naturally small-statured variety of donkey.
They are not bred down intentionally like many “miniature” breeds, but instead reach a smaller mature stature based on the breed’s natural adaptations.
How small you may ask? Miniature donkeys are classified at under 36 inches tall at the wither!
Standard donkeys are classified within the height range of 9 to 14 hands tall. This would mean standard-sized donkeys mature to the height of an average pony.
To quote Shakespeare, however, “Though they be but little, they are fierce”!
Standard donkeys are known to carry significant loads for their size and are a common draught animal in many countries.
Mammoth donkeys are over 14 hands, making them the same mature size as a tall pony or a small horse, and often even larger than that. Mammoth donkeys are suitable for riding and draught work.
Beyond the standard sizes of domestic donkeys, there are a wide variety of breeds and classifications including the characteristically shaggy Poitou donkey, the African Wild Ass, and the South American Burro.
While an ideal environment for a donkey varies by breed and size, there are many consistent factors that need to be considered whether the donkey is miniature or mammoth.
7 Tips to Help Your Donkeys Live Longer
1. Choosing the Right Pasture Companions
One of the biggest considerations is their living environment and “roommates.”
First, donkeys are very social and thrive in an environment where they can interact with other donkeys or equines.
As a rule of thumb, standard and mammoths can be kept with large ponies and horses, as they are equivalent in size and strength.
Miniature donkeys, however, need companions of their own size and stature.
This is not only important for them to be social and content, but safe in their living area.
Equines are very physical in their play and interactions, meaning that a miniature donkey in a pen of larger horses or donkeys can easily be injured.
To keep an even playing field, try to keep animals of similar size together.
2. Let Them Have a Friend
Second, as donkeys are social, they form very strong bonds with their companions. Losing their companion or being separated from them can negatively impact their health and their life span.
Many people have reported losing a pair of donkeys one right after another, referring to “broken heart syndrome” as the reason the second animal’s health quickly declined after losing their companion.
Third, if you are considering a donkey, know that they are a very long-term commitment.
Donkeys outlive most horses and are best matched with another donkey. Their average lifespan is over 27 years and they can often live up to 40 years.
If a donkey loses a companion, it is important to let them see their partner and allow time to grieve. (Have we mentioned how smart donkeys are yet?)
Companionship is vital for a donkey’s health, so matching them with a partner that has an similar expected lifespan is important for their health and well-being.
3. Monitor Their Health
Donkeys are notoriously tough, stubborn, and very intelligent. This combination makes them very hardy, but also difficult to diagnose health problems early on.
When considering a donkey as a pet or companion, it is good to know what health problems are common, this way you can keep a good eye out for signs or symptoms before anything becomes too serious.
Here are the basic ranges for a healthy donkey’s vitals:
- Temperature: 97.2 – 100.8 degrees Fahrenheit
- Pulse: 36-68 beats per minute
- Respiration: 12-44 breaths per minute
4. Feed a Proper Diet
Donkeys require a simple life and little more than the necessities: food, water and shelter. While shelter and water are self-explanatory, food for donkeys can be tricky.
Donkeys require less sugar and less protein than horses as they are predisposed to metabolic diseases and obesity.
Consult a vet or nutritionist to help establish a safe diet for your donkey based on their age, size, and activity level. This is one of the biggest health issues donkeys face.
Also, check out our article on what donkeys eat.
One of the most common and easiest to see is hyperlipidemia. This is the buildup of large amounts of fat under the skin and in the bloodstream.
While this can often be traced to overeating or a diet that is too high in protein or sugar, hyperlipidemia can also be caused by a donkey fasting and then binging on food for days at a time.
This can easily be seen as lumps developing under the skin and creating a “bumpy” appearance across their body.
Along with hyperlipidemia, obesity in general can be a large health issue for donkeys. This goes back to ensuring a donkey’s diet matches its size, age, and workload.
Diet can also lead to founder in donkeys, a condition where the coffin bone in the hoof turns and affects the sensitive laminae within the hoof capsule. This ties directly into regular hoof care.
5. Make Sure to Provide Routine Hoof Care & Maintenance
Just like any other animal, donkeys require regular health and maintenance to ensure a long and healthy life.
While donkey’s hooves are of a different shape than horse’s, they still require regular care and maintenance.
Laminitis is a common issue with donkeys as they age or their diet fluctuates, so regular hoof care is an important part of basic health and catching any potential issues early on.
6. Keep them Parasite Free
Donkeys are much more susceptible to parasites in comparison to horses.
Regular deworming is important to prevent lungworms and other parasites from shortening a donkey’s life span or negatively impacting their health.
A study in Texas found that 86% of the donkeys they tested were positive for Equine Lungworms.
While this is preventable with a deworming routine, it shows just how much more prone to parasites donkeys can be.
Another parasitic issue is Besnoitiosis. Showing up in North America as recently as 2011, this issue is still a mystery to many practicing veterinarians.
Besnoitiosis can be distinguished by legions around the donkey’s eyes and mouth, but the cause and treatment for it are currently completely unknown and still undergoing research.
7. Watch for Signs of Old Age
Finally, since donkeys have a long-life expectancy, common health issues are tied to old age, including arthritis. Arthritis is a common issue across all species as age increases, and donkeys are certainly no exception.
There are great long-term arthritis treatments available, however a tough, stubborn donkey may not show signs of arthritis until their pain level is very high.
As with any health issue, a strong relationship with a vet and farrier can help catch and treat most health issues early on.
While donkeys are incredibly tough and hardy animals, it is important to remember that basic health care including a balanced diet, regular farrier and dental visits, and preventative medicine (including deworming and vaccinating) are all critical parts of ensuring your donkey lives a long and healthy life. It is not uncommon for a well-cared for donkey to live up to 40 years! Best of luck with your long-eared friends!