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Why Is My Donkey Not Eating?

Have you gone out to feed your donkey and, after filling their tub with hay, found he isn’t interested and won’t eat it? You decide to leave and come back to check on him, and still, he hasn’t eaten?

Donkeys are stoic, and it can be hard to tell when they are in pain. This is why you may not know anything is wrong until they stop eating. 

There are several possible causes for a donkey not eating. Some are medical emergencies and need immediate veterinary care. Others, while not an emergency, may also need to be addressed as soon as possible.

Read on to discover how to determine what your donkey’s condition may be from the symptoms he has, and what to do next.

What condition may be causing my donkey not to eat?

Donkeys like to eat. They do not usually pass up anything edible if it’s given to them. 

When a donkey is not eating his hay at mealtime, it’s a sign that something is wrong. 

It can be challenging to determine what is ailing your donkey. Think back over the last few days. You need to be observant since donkeys can hide their pain and discomfort. 

Has anything in the environment or feed changed? Has he been dewormed? Has there been any sign of a behavior change? It could be something subtle and easy to miss. Have you seen him drink water? 

Then look him all over and observe his breathing. Check that he’s been pooping and if the droppings look normal. 

It can be challenging to know whose poop is whose when you have more than one donkey but try to assess if the overall amount is the daily normal.

Read through the symptoms of each condition below. Check to see if any apply to your situation and act accordingly.


Donkeys do not show as many symptoms as horses do when they have colic. They may not seem quite right or appear “dull.” 

Here are possible signs your donkey has colic:

  • acting depressed
  • laying down
  • standing with back legs stretched out
  • elevated breathing or heart rate
  • sweating
  • fewer or no droppings, or diarrhea
  • rolling on or pawing at the ground (not common in donkeys)

Colic can be fatal and is a medical emergency. Call your veterinarian immediately if your donkey has any of these symptoms. 

If you can, take your donkey’s temperature and have medical records handy before the vet arrives. The veterinarian may administer medications, fluids, laxatives, or stool softeners.


Ulcers in donkeys can cause some of the same symptoms as colic, such as poor appetite, being in pain, and acting depressed. 

Additional indications for ulcers are a poor coat, lack of energy, laying down more often than before, and weight loss.

Again, due to the donkey’s stoic nature, it can be tough to tell if a donkey has an ulcer.

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Your vet can prescribe medication for ulcers so the donkey feels better and help heal the ulcer.

Teeth problems

Symptoms your donkey needs help with his teeth are:

  • Trying to eat, but the food falls out of his mouth
  • Drooling
  • Chewing only on one side of his mouth
  • Not eating all his food
  • Difficulty eating
  • Bad breath
  • Weight loss

Donkey teeth continually grow. They need their teeth checked annually and floated (filed down) if needed. 

It can be difficult to get a donkey to open his mouth wide enough to see the teeth. Even if you can see them, it takes a trained eye to tell when they need to be floated. 

Your veterinarian should be checking the teeth when he performs the annual or semi-annual health checks of your donkeys.

Donkeys have their full set of adult teeth at five years of age. Before then, their teeth need to be checked, preferably twice a year. 

After they have all of their adult teeth, they should be checked at least once a year.

If they aren’t taken care of, the continuous growth can result in sharp points on the teeth, which can cause injury and pain to the cheeks or tongue. 

Donkeys can also develop gum disease or have broken or missing teeth. We will discuss some of the possible treatments in later sections.

Old Age

Donkeys can live up to 40 years. For miniature donkeys, their lifespan can be 25-35 years. Any donkey over 20 will start to need extra care. Their teeth will need to be checked twice a year.

Older donkeys may have lost teeth, or the teeth may have worn down so much that they can’t chew well. Elderly donkeys may need different feed than younger donkeys.

If an old donkey has had their teeth maintained well, they may still lose teeth, or the teeth may be worn down. 

Both conditions will inhibit their ability to chew hay. Replacements for standard hay for the geriatric donkey are:

  1. Products that are finely chopped and soft
  2. Hay cubes
  3. Pellets high in fiber, which can be soaked
  4. Beet-based products, which can be soaked into a mush
  5. Pellets containing oil for extra calories

Note: Do not feed any grain-based products to donkeys. They are too high in starch for donkeys.

Moldy hay

Donkeys don’t like the smell of moldy hay. Eating moldy hay can make a donkey very sick, or even kill him.

Be sure to buy hay from a reputable supplier. Keep it dry and make certain rodents can’t get into it. If you don’t have a shed to store it in, you can put it on pallets and cover it with a tarp. 

Make sure there are no holes in the tarp and keep it tight around the bales. You can use rocks or bricks to keep the tarp from blowing in the wind.

What should I do to help my donkey if it isn’t eating?

Call your vet immediately if your donkey has a medical problem (colic, ulcer). Colic needs to be treated as soon as possible, as it can be fatal. 

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Keep their bonded donkey friend nearby for comfort until the veterinarian arrives. 

If you are bringing your donkey to the animal hospital (your vet will advise whether this is advisable), bring the donkey’s buddy along. Donkeys get very upset when separated from their bonded friend.

If the problem seems to be with the teeth, call your veterinarian to set up an appointment to get the teeth checked and floated, if necessary. 

Ask for advice on what to feed your donkey until the problem can be addressed. If you have an elderly donkey, ask your veterinarian about his special needs.

If the problem is moldy hay, get fresh hay. Sniff it before buying it.

Treatments to help your donkey eat

The prescribed treatment for your donkey depends on why he is not eating. 

Colic may require fluids, a pain reliever, and other medication. The fluids may be administered by a hose inserted through the donkey’s nostril. For severe cases, surgery may be necessary.

If the colic is severe, it may be too late by the time you know your donkey is suffering. 

After your veterinarian has examined your donkey, ask about the prognosis and cost of treatment. Euthanasia may be the most humane option.

For an ulcer, your vet may prescribe omeprazole, a medication commonly used to heal and prevent future equine ulcers. It will need to be administered daily for four weeks.

Floating their teeth will help donkeys chew their hay without pain. It is a process of filing down sharp points and edges of the teeth to create a flat chewing surface. 

This procedure involves using a mouth gag device, which keeps the donkey’s mouth open while the teeth are being examined and filed. The donkey may be sedated before the procedure to keep him calm.

For older donkeys with worn or missing teeth, feed a mash that is easy to eat. It can be made up of any combination of soaked cut hay, soaked hay pellets, or soaked beet pulp.

How to keep your donkey healthy?

Taking good care of your donkey is key to preventing the problems discussed above. The main thing in keeping your donkey healthy is to feed him properly. 

Donkeys aren’t horses and can’t eat the same as they do. 

Grass hay is best. Avoid feeding alfalfa and any type of grain. Clean water must always be available. 

Healthy treats for a donkey are carrots, apples, bananas, pears, and turnips. Horse treats, even low-carb or low-sugar ones, are other options. 

They come in flavors donkeys like, such as peppermint and ginger, apple, carrot, and others. Avoid sugary treats, cookies, and bread.

One other thing about donkey ownership – a donkey cannot be alone. They need another donkey. A pair of donkeys will play together, keep each other company, and be much happier than a solitary donkey.

By adhering to these feeding guidelines, as well as paying attention to your donkey’s habits and physical condition, you can have many years of companionship with your beloved donkey.