Chronic Musculoskeletal Problem Management - Donkey

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Small changes to husbandry techniques may improve the quality of life and decrease discomfort. Elevating the height of feed and water facilities will relieve stress for those with cervical and forelimb osteoarthritis and laminitis. Affected individuals should be fed separately to avoid being bullied by other donkeys. Feeds should be split into several smaller quantities given throughout the day to avoid the animal having to stand in one place for too long.

As with elderly people, warmth and comfort play a big part in the mental and physical well-being of the old donkey. Comfort in the form of a deep bed with space to move around and a well fitting rug will encourage the animal to rest as necessary but also allow for gentle movement to keep joints supple and mobile.

Persistent low-grade pain will reduce willingness to move about and graze, so remember that energy requirements for maintenance will change according to the environmental temperature. In cold weather it is essential to ensure adequate shelter and probably provide a rug. The smaller the animal the greater the proportionate heat loss will be.

With no formal studies related to the measurement of pain in donkeys it is easy to dismiss many of the chronic conditions seen in old age as just part of the ageing process that has to be endured. Low-grade pain in other species has in itself been seen as a reason for chronic weight loss and depression. Donkeys by their very nature are very stoical creatures with the ability to hide any sign of pain even up until the point of death. The welfare implications of ignoring persistent pain are significant and should be reassessed as a matter of course. Analgesia in these cases should be considered essential for the quality of life of the individual animal.

The potential risk of long-term NSAID use appears to be insignificant when assessed against the increased motility and comfort that it brings to the aged individual. Evidence suggests that, in general, phenylbutazone brings increased benefits to laminitis-associated pain whilst carprofen gives increased relief to osteoarthritic conditions, but this should not be set in stone and individuals have been known to respond to the contrary. Note also that, due to the increased rate of clearance and distribution of phenylbutazone in donkeys, a twice daily dosage should be prescribed. Conversely, the NSAID carprofen is apparently metabolized more slowly in donkeys than in horses, therefore dosing intervals that are used in horses may not be appropriate for use in donkeys (Mealey et al, 2004).


  • Sprayson, T. (2008) The care of the geriatric donkey In Svendsen, E.D., Duncan, J. and Hadrill, D. (2008) The Professional Handbook of the Donkey, 4th edition, Whittet Books, Chapter 13
  • Mealey, K.L., Matthews, N.S., Peck, K.E., Burchfield, M.I., Bennett, B.S. and Taylor, T.S. (2004). ‘Pharmacokinetics of R(-) and S(+) carprofen after administration of racemic carprofen in donkeys and horses’. American Journal of Veterinary Research 65. pp 1479-1482.
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