Ben Hart, our Senior Lead in Behaviour and Human Behaviour Change, looks at some of the ways to help donkeys with their mental and physical health.
Looking after your donkeys’ mental wellbeing is an important part of caring for them, but it can also be a fun and creative endeavour that helps form strong relationships between you and your donkey.
Just like people, donkeys can suffer from stress, which can have a negative impact on both their physical and mental health.
So, what can you do to help your donkeys with their mental wellbeing?
Bringing back the challenge
In the wild, donkeys roam for miles every day and continuously forage for food.
Comparatively, donkeys here in the UK have a much easier life. They have all the food they could every want, and don’t have much difficulty in obtaining it.
While we don’t want them to eat too much and get fat, this easy access to food also removes a large part of their time that would usually be spent searching for food.
This can leave them bored and in some cases overweight, if their access to food or pasture is not properly monitored.
At The Donkey Sanctuary, we have to add this challenge back into our donkeys’ lives in order for them to feel mentally healthy and fulfilled, which we can do by adding enrichment.
Creating track systems within donkeys’ living spaces can encourage them to walk further every day.
We can increase foraging opportunities by presenting forage in more challenging ways and providing them with different kinds of plants and branches to pick at.
There are many toys on the market suitable for donkeys, but you can also get creative and make your own.
By making our donkeys environments as interesting as possible and engaging their thinking skills, we can help them to behave as naturally as possible. This will reduce stress and improve their wellbeing, as well as create opportunities for us to have fun and bond with our donkeys.
Small steps to success
So, how do routine treatments and care affect our donkeys’ wellbeing?
Our donkeys face additional challenges that their wild ancestors do not, and these routine treatments can cause them to feel nervous or fearful which they communicate through their behaviour.
It is possible for us to reduce this stress by handling our animals daily and training them to calmly accept routine handling.
Training our donkeys can also become part of their mental enrichment.
By training our donkeys in small steps, using positive reinforcement, we can prepare our donkey to accept treatment calmly, which in turn makes them safer to handle.
Training our donkeys positively can be fun for both donkey and humans, and it allows us to develop the trusting relationship that we want.
Good training has the benefit of improving the wellbeing of our donkey and reduces stress for both parties.
As well as providing for our donkey’s physical health, it is also crucial to monitor their mental wellbeing to help them live their best lives with us.