Periodontal Disease - Donkey

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Unlike brachydont species, in the donkey primary periodontal disease (of the gums, periodontal tissues, alveoli and spaces between teeth) does not seem to be a significant problem, although historically it appears to have been very significant in horses, possibly due to the feeding of chaff.

During the eruption of the permanent teeth, a transient inflammation of the periodontal membrane occurs in many donkeys and can be recognised by a reddening of the gum around the erupting tooth. Due to the prolonged eruption and continuous development of new periodontal fibres in the donkey, periodontal disease is not necessarily irreversible, as is the case with brachydont dentition.

Most clinically significant periodontal disease in the donkey occurs secondarily to malocclusions. Teeth are not in proper opposition (such as in shear mouth or diastema) and periodontal disease is caused by food impaction at the periodontal margin, particularly on the lateral aspect of mandibular cheek teeth. Other causes of this include oral food entrapment caused by chronic enamel overgrowth, the presence of supernumerary cheek teeth, displaced and/or rotated cheek teeth (especially the fourth and fifth maxillary and mandibular cheek teeth), and midline or ‘slab’ fractured cheek teeth.

Chronic periapical abscessation of any aetiology, especially in older donkeys, may eventually track coronally along the periodontal space to the coronal aspect of the periodontium, thus causing periodontal disease.

Due to a combination of diastema and other abnormalities of wear (especially dental overgrowths), most older donkeys suffer from secondary periodontal disease. Treatment may include promotion of the normal masticatory activity by mechanically levelling the dental arcades, alleviating painful overgrowths to allow free lateral jaw movement, or totally extracting very loose or diseased teeth. Tetanus prophylaxis, anti-inflammatory and antibiotic therapy may also be indicated. With dietary management, such old donkeys can be satisfactorily maintained after the loss of many of their teeth.


  • Dacre, I., Dixon, P. and Gosden, L. (2008) Dental problems In Svendsen, E.D., Duncan, J. and Hadrill, D. (2008) The Professional Handbook of the Donkey, 4th edition, Whittet Books, Chapter 5