We have noticed that the older the donkey gets, the less they tolerate changes in weather. It’s not just the extremes of temperature that they become unable to cope with but also simply the change. We are lucky to live in a relatively temperate country but we do often get sudden changes from warm and wet to cold and frosty.
There is no way to completely buffer the geriatric donkey from these climate changes. Sadly the number of donkeys we lost from November 2015 to January 2016 was double the number in July to August showing the influence seasonal change and colder temperatures has on these older animals.
There are a few ways which we try to help ease the winter stresses here at The Donkey Sanctuary.
- Pain relief for arthritis
Twice a year at least all the donkeys on long-term medication are checked to review their condition. Sometimes the pain relief can be reduced over the warmer months but as soon as the wet and cold weather starts it is very noticeable how the stiff donkeys worsen. A condition such as osteoarthritis is irreversible, meaning it is crucial to monitor these cases carefully to ensure that they are pain free and manging with their condition.
- Weight control
Being in a group makes keeping every donkey at their ideal body weight a real challenge. Extra rations to maintain each donkey at the ideal condition are adjusted constantly. The monthly weigh-in can reveal large changes. If a donkey loses more than 5% bodyweight in 4 weeks they are checked by the vet as a drop in body condition is often the first sign of a problem with an old donkey; loose teeth, liver disease and chronic pain are common causes of weight loss.
- Diet management
The dentists are crucial at picking up on the individuals that have a reduced function with worn or missing teeth. These are normally moved into a group with ad-lib short chop feed and non-edible bedding, instead of hay and straw, making it easier for them to eat despite their dental problems. In the wild these animals would not survive but with management changes we can ensure we give every donkey the best possible chance. This must not be confused with increasing the length of life unnecessarily but rather ensuring quality of life at all times.
- Keeping warm
As well as providing heat lamps, extra shelters and warm barns, we rug most of our older donkeys as they are more susceptible to the cold. Our grooms remove and replace the rugs every day to ensure any problems underneath the rug are picked up quickly. As the weather warms we clip a number of the donkeys in order to control lice as the summer sun significantly reduces the lice population. The coat should have regrown ready for winter, keeping the donkeys snug and warm without their extra friends aboard! The old donkeys also love our latest invention- a barn within a barn so they can be kept extra toasty on those cold winter nights! You could also think about giving your donkey warm water in a bucket to drink as this warms them from the inside out, after all what do you prefer on a cold day - a cold glass of lemonade or a warm cup of tea?
If you have an old donkey you think may not be coping with the cold temperatures as well as they once did why not call your vet or regional donkey welfare advisor for a friendly chat to see if there are extra steps you can take to keep them warm and comfortable this winter?
Can you help?
Our grooms at Paccombe Farm are currently trying to raise enough money to buy a hot water tank so they can deliver 'warm tea' throughout the day and even the night when Neil Coles, Farm Manager, does his nightly checks.
All of our donkeys have a home for life here at The Donkey Sanctuary and we like to make it as comfortable and enjoyable as we possibly can for them. Thank you for your help.