You may have heard about colic in horses and them rolling or thrashing on the ground. While donkeys and horses are similar and will have some of the same symptoms, donkeys do not show pain as dramatically as horses.
Therefore, it can be hard to tell if anything is seriously wrong with your donkey.
Spending time with your donkey and getting to know his personality and typical behavior will make it easier for you to realize when he’s acting as if he’s in pain. Colic is a medical emergency, and time is of the essence.
Read on to learn more about its treatment, prevention, causes, etc.
How to Treat Colic in Donkeys?
Colic is a symptom of abdominal pain in the gastrointestinal tract and not a disease.
Treatment is given to relieve pain, release trapped gas or fluid in the stomach, or release an obstruction in the esophagus or impaction in the digestive tract.
If the condition is severe, it will require hospitalization or even surgery. And sadly, in some cases, the most humane option is euthanasia.
Colic is dangerous, and prompt treatment is crucial.
You’ve determined that your donkey may have colic and called your veterinarian. He will perform several tests to determine the severity and the necessary treatment when he arrives.
Assessing the type and urgency of your donkey’s colic as soon as possible is critical to relieving him from pain and saving his life.
Your veterinarian will perform several diagnostic tests:
- Measure temperature, heart, and breath rate.
- Check for sounds in the gut using a stethoscope. A healthy donkey will have regular rumblings in his gut. No sounds indicate a blockage or a possible twisted gut.
- Check the teeth. Bad or missing teeth can affect how completely a donkey chews his feed. Pieces or chunks of food can become impacted in the intestine or caught in the throat.
- Pass a tube (nasogastric) down into the stomach through the nose. This may require sedation to keep the donkey calm during the procedure. Using the tube will determine if there is an obstruction in the esophagus. It also can release gas from your donkey’s stomach or be used to siphon off fluid, both of which will relieve pain. Removing the excess fluid can prevent the stomach from bursting.
- Perform a rectal exam to feel for an impaction or gas buildup.
- Take a blood sample to look for fat cells in the blood.
He will then use the results to determine the severity of the problem and whether your donkey can be treated onsite or needs hospitalization and possibly surgery.
Treatment at the Farm
Your veterinarian will administer some or all of the following:
- Pain medication to relieve the discomfort your donkey is experiencing, given either by mouth or by IV drip
- Sedation to keep your donkey calm during the nasogastric tube insertion and rectal examination
- Fluids to reduce dehydration
- Mineral oil to help with the passing of an impaction
Your donkey must be monitored closely to determine whether further medical care is needed after your veterinarian’s visit.
Depending on the cause, multiple treatments may be necessary over several days. For example, additional rehydration may be required.
If your donkey needs surgery due to a twisted gut, you must be able to transport your donkey immediately to the equine hospital.
His bonded donkey buddy should go along with him to avoid excess stress from separation anxiety.
Surgery is expensive and risky. Ask for a cost estimate and prognosis to help you decide if this is the right choice for you and your donkey.
Your donkey may recover quickly or need monitoring and ongoing care for several days. Mild cases may only require relieving pain and possibly releasing gas or fluids.
Torsion (twisted gut) can cause a loss of blood flow to part of the intestine, releasing toxins into the blood and causing severe pain. Without surgery, this will eventually cause death.
Euthanasia may be the most humane option if the colic is severe or the surgery cost is out of your reach. If this is the decision, performing it as early as possible will relieve your donkey’s pain and suffering.
How to Prevent Colic in Donkeys?
Prevention is the best way to avoid colic. Here are what to consider for your donkey’s health and quality of life:
Donkeys need a high fiber, low protein, low sugar diet, which in the US, means feeding grass hay. In Europe, feed-quality straw is available.
Alfalfa, grains, and horse feed are too rich for donkeys. The hay should be 1.5 – 1.8% of your donkey’s weight per day.
Refrain from giving too many treats and offer healthier choices. Apples, carrots, bananas, and low-sugar horse treats are good choices. Avoid cookies and sweets.
Always have clean water available. In areas where the water freezes in the winter, either use a water heater or add hot water to it to warm it up. Offer cool water in hot weather.
Avoid feeding the hay on the ground or allowing grazing on sandy soil, as your donkey could also consume the sand.
Prevent access to poisonous plants and fruit trees by cutting them down or using fencing to keep them out of reach. Keep plastic bags, rope, cardboard, and rubber out of reach.
Make any changes in feed, routine, or habitat gradually over time to avoid stress in your donkey. Please don’t yell at him and don’t play loud music near the barn or pen.
Donkeys bond in pairs; they need a buddy for companionship and play.
Donkeys’ teeth continually grow. Sharp points can form and make it painful to eat. An annual dental exam is necessary to monitor the condition of the mouth.
This can be done at the same visit when your veterinarian administers your donkey’s vaccines and dewormer. Floating is filing the teeth down to remove the points. This may need to be done once a year.
Parasites can create inflammation or a blockage in the gut. Deworm on a regular schedule, according to your veterinarian’s recommendation.
Scoop up manure often to reduce the chance of parasite eggs developing into worms while it’s still in your donkey’s pen.
What are the Causes of Colic in Donkeys?
There are four types of colic:
- Impacted: Intestinal blockage made up of partially digested food, non-food (ex. plastic bags), or worms.
- Spasmodic: Muscle spasms occurring in the intestinal wall.
- Gassy: Gas has built up in the stomach.
- Torsion: Also known as “twisted gut.” Part of the intestine has become twisted around on itself.
There are several causes of colic.
Diet: Feeding grain, horse feed, alfalfa, or too much grass can all cause impacted or gassy colic.
Water: Dehydration can cause impacted colic.
Eating Non-Food Items: Donkeys can eat things they shouldn’t, such as plastic bags, rope, or cardboard. These can cause impacted colic.
Poisonous Plants: Plants and tree leaves poisonous to donkeys, and fruit on trees can cause colic.
Sand: Feeding on sandy soil can cause the donkey to consume the sand along with the hay or grass. This can cause impacted colic.
Dental Problems: If there are missing or broken teeth or sharp points on the teeth, the donkey cannot chew his feed properly. This can result in swallowing chunks of food, which can cause impacted colic.
What are the Symptoms of Colic?
Donkeys are stoic animals, and it’s hard to recognize when they are in pain. There are several symptoms of colic:
- Lack of appetite
- Isolation from the other donkeys
- Standing with the body stretched out
- Rapid breathing
- Raised heart rate
- Color of the gums or inside the eyelid is red
- Lack of or fewer droppings than normal
- Head down, with ears drooping backward or sideways
What to Do if You Suspect your Donkey has Colic?
Call your veterinarian immediately and tell him what symptoms your donkey is exhibiting.
If you’re able, take vital signs (heart and breath rate) before calling to help your vet assess the situation before coming out to your farm.
Stay with your donkey to help keep him calm and to observe any changes in his condition.
If you do not own a horse trailer to transport your donkey, you may want to call someone you know who might lend you their trailer.
If your donkey requires surgery, it must be performed as soon as possible.
Most of the time, colic can be treated easily, and your donkey will recover quickly. But it can be life-threatening or fatal.
Since donkeys don’t show pain readily, don’t assume that you can take the wait-and-see approach if your donkey shows the symptoms described above.
It’s much safer to have your veterinarian come out to examine your donkey.
Diagnose the problem as soon as you notice symptoms rather than have the situation become worse and not be able to have the necessary surgery in time to prevent losing your donkey.
As you have read, there are several causes of colic. By following the prevention guidelines given here, you will be giving your donkey the best chance of never having to experience colic.