Your donkeys might seem fine when you go out to feed them and scoop up the manure. But when you get to the pile of droppings, you notice what looks like a cow pie, a puddle of green liquid, or something in between. How worried should you be about your donkey?
Most nonthreatening cases of diarrhea are caused by diet, parasites, the result of vaccines or deworming, or stress. Other more severe cases will require testing to determine the cause and veterinary care.
Donkeys are hardy animals that evolved from the desert. They don’t often get ill, but occasionally they will have diarrhea.
Read on to learn more about the possible causes of your donkey’s diarrhea and what you can do about it.
What Causes Diarrhea in Donkeys?
Many things can cause a donkey to have diarrhea. Often it will clear up on its own in a day or two. It might be resolved relatively quickly by changing the diet or your donkey’s environment.
You will need your veterinarian to come out and examine your donkey for chronic or more severe cases.
Diet-related causes are the most common types of diarrhea and the easiest to remedy.
A sudden change in diet:
This can be from your donkey overeating fresh spring grass after eating hay all winter. Or maybe he got into the horse’s grain or feed.
A diet too rich in carbohydrates and protein:
Donkeys are desert animals and don’t need the level of protein or carbs that horses do. They don’t do well if fed grains or alfalfa. Perhaps someone fed your animal some inappropriate treats, such as bread.
Poor quality hay and toxic plants:
Moldy hay can cause intestinal upset. You will be able to smell it. There are plants, fruits, and vegetables that are toxic to donkeys and cause diarrhea if eaten.
Some will make your donkey very sick and can be fatal.
Parasites are a common problem in donkeys, so it’s recommended they are treated with a preventative at least twice a year.
Your veterinarian will let you know how often it’s needed for your area.
Donkeys usually ingest internal parasites (worms) when they graze on contaminated pasture. These worms will live in the intestines.
If there are large enough numbers of them, they can cause nutrient deficiencies, anemia, and sometimes eventually, damaged organs.
The animal can have diarrhea, be lethargic, and have a distended abdomen.
Vaccines and Dewormer
A side effect of vaccines and dewormers can be digestive upset. It shouldn’t last more than a day or two. If your donkey also seems sluggish, you may want to contact your veterinarian for advice.
Stressful situations can cause diarrhea. Things like:
Changes in the living environment:
The loss of a companion donkey is a major stressful event for the one left behind.
Adding a new donkey to your farm, changes in the daily routine, being confined to the barn, or loud noises can lead to stress-related diarrhea.
Traveling in a trailer:
Travel can be very stressful for animals since it’s not an everyday event and therefore unfamiliar. The availability of hay and water can be inconsistent while they’re in the trailer.
Very hot weather, especially when it’s humid, can cause diarrhea.
Anesthesia and surgery:
The stress from these can upset the microbiome, resulting in diarrhea.
Diarrhea can be related to a jennet’s heat cycle. This is harmless and will probably only last a day.
Antibiotics can disturb the microbiome in the gut, resulting in digestive upset.
Bacterial or viral infection: Salmonella is one common bacterial infection that can cause diarrhea.
Donkeys can accumulate sand in their intestines by their habit of eating everything they can access on the ground. If too much builds up, then it can result in sand colic. Diarrhea is one symptom of this.
Diarrhea in Foals
Foals younger than two months can develop Rotavirus A, a virus that causes excessive watery diarrhea with a strong odor.
This can last for 4-7 days or weeks for more severe cases. The foal also may not eat, be lethargic, or be depressed. This can be diagnosed from a fecal test.
If you suspect your donkey foal has this condition, you should call your veterinarian.
The foal can become dehydrated quickly due to a large amount of fluid loss. Intravenous fluids may be necessary to compensate.
After cleaning the baby donkey, a diaper rash cream can be applied to make him more comfortable.
Rotavirus A is very contagious, and the foal should be quarantined. Keep him clean, and after washing him, remove the feces to where other animals cannot come in contact with it.
If your donkey’s diarrhea isn’t watery and lasts less than two days, he should be fine after his droppings return to normal. If it’s liquid or continues for more than a day, he may become dehydrated.
Signs of this are:
- When pinching the skin at the shoulder, it doesn’t snap back quickly
- Dull eyes
- Reduced or dark urine
- Dry mouth or discolored gums
The first thing to do for your donkey, whether he shows symptoms of dehydration or not, is to offer fresh, clean water.
Don’t allow him access to grass, alfalfa, or grain. Feed only good-quality hay. Monitor his droppings to see if the diarrhea stops.
If you call your veterinarian, he may advise adding electrolytes to the water. Follow his instructions on what to use and the quantity.
If your donkey hasn’t been on a regular deworming schedule, you can have a fecal egg count done from his droppings to determine the type and quantity of parasites.
Then your veterinarian can determine the correct dose and type of dewormer to be given. A dewormer should then be administered two or four times a year, depending on your area.
If the condition continues for more than two days, or your donkey seems unwell, this may be an urgent situation.
If you suspect he ate something toxic or poisonous, you need to call your veterinarian right away.
Your donkey can become dehydrated rather quickly if the diarrhea is very watery. This needs to be treated promptly by your vet with electrolytes and perhaps fluids given through a stomach tube or an IV.
When should I call my veterinarian?
You need to call your veterinarian to come out if your donkey is experiencing diarrhea that has lasted more than two days or if he also appears unwell or in pain.
Your veterinarian will need to examine your donkey to diagnose the cause of the diarrhea. He will ask for medical history, any recent changes in the environment or routine, and about deworming history.
He may take blood and fecal samples. A biopsy of the intestines may be taken in an extreme or chronic case.
The veterinarian may recommend administering fluids through the stomach or by IV, nutritional supplementation for dehydration, or antibiotics based on testing results.
He may also prescribe probiotics or an anti-diarrheal.
How to prevent diarrhea in donkeys?
Providing a proper diet and making any diet changes gradually will help prevent diarrhea. Donkeys can’t be fed like horses.
As desert animals, they cannot handle much grass in a pasture. Grass hay is best for them.
Always have cool, clean water available. In winter, you can add hot water to their trough to warm it up and melt ice. In summer, you can add ice to cool it down if needed.
A regular deworming schedule will help control internal parasites. Your veterinarian will tell you how often that’s needed.
Try to minimize stress for your donkey. If you need to transport him in a trailer, take time to get him used to getting in and out of it beforehand.
If your donkey has lost his companion, be sure to keep him company and watch for signs of depression. If he doesn’t eat, contact your veterinarian for advice. Consider getting another donkey.
Ask your veterinarian if there is anything else you can do if your donkey needs to take antibiotics to prevent diarrhea.
Diarrhea can be messy and smelly to deal with and cause you concern. Luckily, most of the time, it’s not caused by a severe condition and won’t last long.
It can be challenging to determine which of your donkeys has diarrhea. You will need to watch them in order to find out.
If all of the manure is soft or liquid, then you know all of them are suffering from it. That can mean it’s something contagious, or they were all vaccinated or dewormed at the same time.
If you have a jennet (female donkey) and she gets diarrhea regularly due to her cycle, you can keep track of the instances on a calendar. Then you’ll know if that’s the most likely cause when it next occurs.
Get to know your donkey’s normal behavior, so you know when there’s been a change.
This can be vital if the underlying cause of the diarrhea is an infection, sand in his gut, or if your donkey is very dehydrated.
Feeding a proper diet, keeping up with vaccinations and deworming, and avoiding stressful situations as much as possible, will go a long way to keeping your donkey healthy and happy.