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Ultimate Guide to Owning a Pet Donkey

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Most people think that owning a pet donkey is easy and that they require little upkeep.

In some ways, that does have some truth to it, but donkeys do require some special attention.

a lady caring for a donkey

Donkeys require similar care that a horse does, but thankfully, not entirely to the same degree.

Donkeys may be hardy animals, but they still need plenty of care so that they can live long, healthy lives.

If you want to own or already have a pet donkey, there are some important things that you should know.

The more you know about owning pet donkeys, the longer and healthier their life will be.

The Origin of Donkeys

a brown donkey

If you are going take care of a donkey, it is important to know where they come from.

Donkeys are related to horses and also belong to the animal family Equidae.

The domesticated donkey that we all know and love today is a descendant of the African wild ass.

Sometime around the year 3000 BC, people started domesticating wild donkeys in Egypt and used them as work animals.

From then on, domesticated donkeys were used as pack animals to carry heavy loads of supplies and to carry people.

This allowed for trade to increase over long-distances, something that previously was not feasible.

Today, donkeys are still used as pack animals in some countries, but they are also used as guard animals and, of course, as pets! (source)

To find out even more about the origins of the donkey, check out this article.

Important Terms to Know

Here are a few important terms related to donkeys that you as a donkey owner need to know.

TermDefinition
JackA male donkey
Jenny/JennetA female donkey
MuleHybrid offspring of a male donkey and a female horse.
HinnieHybrid offspring of a female donkey and a male horse.
GeldingA castrated male

Types

In America, donkeys are classified based on their size, not by breed.

In other countries, donkeys are often classified by breed, but donkeys in North America are really a mix of breeds from around the world.

It is much easier to identify them by their size instead. The three sizes recognized in North America include miniature, standard, and mammoth-sized donkeys. (source) (source)

TypeMale SizeFemale Size
Miniature< 36 inches<36 inches
Small Standard36 to 48 inches36 to 48 inches
Large Standard>48 to 55.99 inches>48 to 53.99 inches
Mammoth56 inches and above54 inches and above


Temperament

pet donkey at the farm

Donkeys are well known for being just a little stubborn, but that is more of a defense mechanism than a true temperament.

Once a donkey feels safe and secure, they mostly tend to be calm and easy to deal with. Donkeys often will become extremely close to their owners once trust has been established.

Donkeys are extremely smart creatures that are capable of learning and have a tendency to be friendly.

Lifespan

The lifespan of a donkey is probably longer than many donkey owners anticipate.

Donkeys can live exceedingly long lives, which is great when getting one as a pet, but it also means that you are making a real commitment.

Donkeys can live up to 50 years, but most will live somewhere between 30 and 47 years.

A domesticated donkey living safely on a farm has the potential to live several decades. (source)

How to Care for a Donkey

Regardless of what someone may tell you, donkeys do require some special care and should not be overlooked on the farm.

They may be related to horses, but donkeys have different needs from your horses.

Feeding

donkey eating grass

Thanks to their finely tuned digestive systems, donkeys require a daily regimen of low-quality forage like straw or low-protein hay.

They can have access to grass on a pasture, but they should not have constant access to lush pastures.

Forage should constitute at least 50 percent of their daily diet, if not 100 percent. Check out this article for more information.

They will also need access to livestock quality mineral salt, either loose or in a block form.

Donkeys have unique digestive systems that allow them to extract the maximum amount of nutrients from their food.

This means that they can survive and even thrive on low quality hay or grass if needed.

Rich, lush grass is often too much for donkeys to handle and over time, it will cause them to gain weight too quickly.

Keep donkeys off lush grass pastures and consider moving them to lower quality grassy areas or limiting their pasture time to limit consumption.

Avoid feeding donkeys other high calorie foods like alfalfa, processed treats, and anything that is high in protein. (source)

Water

Donkeys should always have access to clean, fresh water.

Water is a vital part of a donkey’s digestive system and they need it to keep everything functioning properly.

Housing

donkey in a wooden shelter

Donkeys need shelter of some kind, especially during extreme weather.

Donkeys can thrive in warm weather, but they still need a place to cool off.

If temperatures are cold, donkeys will need a sheltered and a partially enclosed area to keep warm.

Donkeys unfortunately do not grow thick undercoats like horses do and they cannot withstand extreme cold like a horse can.

Do not worry about putting a blanket on them, just make sure they have access to a safe and warm place during winter months.

Hooves

a gray donkey under a tree

Donkeys should have their hooves examined at least every 2 months.

A donkey’s hooves are different than that of a horse and they do not wear down as easily.

Many donkeys will need to have their hooves trimmed regularly to keep them from interfering with their ability to walk.

If your donkey is having difficulty walking, look first at their hooves for overgrowth, foreign objects, or possible infection.

If they are overweight, laminitis, a severe hoof inflammation, can be the cause. (source)

Teeth

Donkeys, like horses, should have their teeth checked regularly. Over time, chewing creates uneven teeth that can develop sharp, painful edges.

Donkeys will sometimes need their teeth floated or smoothed down by a veterinarian or other experienced professional.

If you notice that your donkey is having trouble eating, refuses to eat, or is losing weight for no other apparent reason, have its teeth checked as soon as possible. (source)

Health

Weight Management

donkey eating a carrot

Weight management is an issue that many donkey owners struggle with.

Overfeeding can lead to weight gain which can contribute to several debilitating health problems.

Donkeys, thanks to their unique digestive system, will quickly gain weight if they are allowed to consume foods like lush grasses, alfalfa, processed treats, or high protein grain.

This can lead to laminitis which can cause lameness as well as excruciating pain.

Donkeys that are overweight often have difficulty walking, running, and protecting themselves from predators. (source)

Pay close attention to your donkey’s weight and adjust their feeding program if you notice any changes.

Consult a veterinarian if your donkey’s weight issues do not improve soon.

Treats

a lady pets a donkey in a farm

Donkeys love treats, but it is important to make sure that treats are low calorie, low protein, and fed only in moderation.

Donkeys can gain weight quickly if they are overfed, so it is important to limit treats, even healthy ones.

Stick with fresh fruits and vegetables like carrots, zucchini, sweet potatoes, apples, cucumbers, watermelon, and bananas.  (source)

Parasites

Donkeys can get the same parasites that horses do. You can treat your donkey with the same dewormer that you use for horses, just remember to account for their smaller weight.

You should work with your veterinarian to choose the right wormer, the right dosage, and to have fecal egg counts done to determine if treatment is working. (source)

Signs of worm infestations in donkeys include weight loss, diarrhea, lethargy, and overall unwellness.

Vaccinations for Donkeys

There are no vaccinations exclusively designed for donkeys, but it is safe and recommended for donkeys to receive horse vaccinations.

breeders working and taking care of the donkeys

Vaccinations can be given to donkeys for tetanus, West Nile virus, eastern equine encephalitis (EEE), western equine encephalitis (WEE), and rabies.

Work with your veterinarian to determine what vaccinations your donkey needs and when. (source)

Fertility Considerations

Female donkeys, will have their first heat sometime after 8 months of age but before they are 2 years old.

Male donkeys will be able to breed as early as 6 months but typically between 8 and 12 months of age.

Keep this in mind if your pet donkey is young and around opposite gendered donkeys or horses.

It is important to know that donkeys can mate with horses.

If you have a male donkey as a pet and do not intend on breeding him, castration is the best way to prevent unintentional breeding with other donkeys or horses.

It also helps cut down on aggression with humans and other animals as well. (source)

Uses for Donkeys

Pack Animals

Donkeys have been used as pack animals ever since they were domesticated many, many years ago.

This means they carry things for people including food, supplies, water, and more.

They are still used for this in underdeveloped countries or areas where vehicles are not available.

Donkeys can be used in the place of a truck, four-wheeler, or side-by-side for people or supplies.

Riding

a saddled donkey

Standard and mammoth-sized donkeys can be ridden by adults, if they will let you.

Miniature donkeys are too small to be ridden by adults or large kids.

Some donkeys just will not have it, but many domesticated donkeys can be ridden.

This is especially useful in remote areas of the world or on farms that are difficult to drive a vehicle around on.

Companions

Donkeys make excellent companion animals for other farm animals.

Many farm owners use donkeys to provide companionship not only to themselves but also to horses, cows, sheep, and goats.

Companionship makes animals happier, healthier, and more likely to survive attacks from predators.

Guard Animals

little girl with her donkey pet

Along with being companions, donkeys make excellent guard animals for many farms.

Donkeys have an instinctive desire to stay and fight in scary situations. If a predator presents itself on a farm, a donkey will stand its ground and defend itself.

It will kick, bite, and bray at predators, running directly towards them if needed.

Often, the predator will abort the mission and leave the herd of animals alone if a donkey is present.

Donkeys can be used as guard animals for sheep, cows, and goats.

Social Considerations

donkeys looking for food to eat

Donkeys are social creatures, and they need animal friends to interact with regularly.

Donkeys not only enjoy being with other donkeys, but they also enjoy interacting with horses, miniature horses, mules, hinnies, goats, cows and sheep.

Yes, donkeys enjoy having humans as companions, but it is important that they have at least 1 or 2 other animals that they can hang out with and sleep near at night.

Companionship between animals makes for a happier and healthier herd.

Pasture Requirements

Raising and caring for a pet donkey on a small farm is easier than you may think.

Donkeys can thrive in small pastures. Half an acre is the recommended amount of land needed to care for one donkey.

Donkeys can be easily kept in pastures with horse, cattle, or electric fences.

Barbed wire should be avoided as it can cause severe wounds on donkeys and is not usually necessary if other options are available. (source)

Do Donkeys Make Good Pets?

three donkeys in the field

Donkeys make excellent pets, but there can always be some difficult seeds in the bunch.

Most donkeys will be skeptical at first, but over time, they will learn to trust you and the other animals on the farm.

Donkeys are usually friendly and are very food motivated, so you can use healthy treats to gain their trust.  

They are smart and stubborn but can form strong bonds with their owner if you have patience and put forth the effort.

Final Thoughts

Owning a pet donkey is not without its obstacles, but it is fairly straightforward.

The key is making sure that you keep an eye on them and do not just assume they are always fine just because they are a donkey.

Perform regular checks on their teeth, hooves, and weight to see if any additional care is needed.

Work with a veterinarian to get a deworming and vaccination plan in effect.

The bond you will create with your pet donkey will be well worth it in the end.

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