Necropsy survey of gastric ulcers in a population of aged donkeys: prevalence, lesion description and risk factors

There is no information about the prevalence of gastric ulceration in donkeys or potential risk factors for its presence in donkeys. The donkey is a stoic, hardy animal that has not previously been thought to suffer from this disease. However, gastric ulceration was found to be a problem in a population of non-working UK donkeys resident at the Donkey Sanctuary and its prevalence was estimated by examining necropsy data over a 2-year period during 2005 to 2006. Associations with clinical and management factors were determined. In total, 426 donkeys were examined at necropsy to determine the presence of gastric ulceration. Lesions were described and scored according to a four-point scale. Management and clinical data from these donkeys were analysed to identify potential risk factors for the presence of gastric ulceration. Terminal blood samples were also studied to determine whether animals were exhibiting hyperlipaemia prior to death. Results showed that 41% (n = 174) of the donkeys studied had evidence of gastric ulceration at necropsy. Most (49%) of the ulcers were of a medium size (area of xs2A7E2 cm2 – <10 cm2) and the most common site for ulcers was the margo plicatus. Of the donkeys examined, 18% had hyperlipaemia prior to or death or euthanasia and this was a risk factor for donkeys developing gastric ulceration; 62% of hyperlipaemia cases also displayed gastric ulceration (P < 0.001). Kidney disease was a potential risk factor (P = 0.02), with 74% of these animals having gastric ulceration. Donkeys that died or were euthanased due to respiratory disease were at a decreased risk of developing ulceration (P = 0.01) Donkeys fed a carbohydrate-based diet were more likely (P < 0.001) to have gastric ulceration than those fed a fibre-only diet, with 55% having gastric ulceration compared with 33% in the fibre-only group. This study has shown that gastric ulceration is commonly observed in donkeys at necropsy and may be extensive.

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Dietary management to improve the gastrointestinal health of the donkey

Faith A. Burden
Nikki Stradling
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The Donkey Sanctuary is a welfare organisation which cares for over 2500 donkeys. Donkeys may require additional feeding due to dental disease, ill health or previous neglect. Research in 2005 highlighted that impaction colics (IC) were a significant cause of mortality in resident donkeys (50 cases, 16% of total euthanasias or deaths) and gastric ulceration (GU) was common in donkeys examined post mortem (PM) (41%). Further studies established that feeding practices were contributing to the incidence of IC and GU. Cox et al.1, (2007) demonstrated that donkeys fed concentrate rations were at an increased risk of developing IC (Odds Ratio=2.5, P<0.001). Research in to GU by Burden et al.2, (2009) showed an increased risk of donkeys developing GU when fed cereal concentrate rations (OR=2.4, P<0.001).

Feeding practices were changed from 2008 onwards; prior to this cereal-based rations were fed in meals to donkeys requiring additional feed. They were replaced with fibre-based concentrates fed ad libutum or in small meals. The incidence of GU and IC have been monitored since these changes through PM examination of all animals that die or are euthanased. Prevalence at PM of IC in 2011(5% (n=13)) was significantly lower (P<0.001) than in 2005 (16% (n=50)), univariable logistic regression analysis indicated that donkeys fed concentrate rations are no longer at a greater risk of IC (P>0.05) when compared with those not fed concentrates. Active GU was seen in 7% (n=25) of donkeys at PM in 2011 compared to 41% in 2005, Univariable logistic regression analysis indicated that donkeys fed fibre-based concentrate rations were at no greater risk of developing GU than those not fed concentrates (P>0.05). During this time period the only significant management changes made were those related to feeding; however the effect of other variables on the prevalence of GU and IC at PM warrants further investigation.

Published as conference proceedings
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