Pain recognition in donkeys

Research award
Start date
End date
  1. Retrospective review using database.
  2. Video surveillance and behaviour coding. 3) Prospective questionnaires.
  1. To determine the prevalence of main pathologies in euthanized Donkey Sanctuary donkeys.
  2. Devise approaches for evaluating pain from behaviour.
  3. Devise pathology scales.
  4. Evaluate associations between ante mortem behaviour and post mortem pathology in UK Donkey Sanctuary donkeys.
  5. Donkeys slaughtered at an abattoir in Mexico.
  1. Figures on prevalence of 6 main pathologies donkeys PTS UK between 2001 and 2008: dental disorders (80%), vascular disease other than aneurysm (61%), arthritis (55%), foot disorder (45%), gastric ulceration (42%), gastrointestinal impaction (19%).
  2. Disease/pain cases spent 10% more time lowered head carriage, 15% less time with ears in combinations (ie ears more static), end stage cases spent 31% more time recumbent and 40% less time eating, list of behaviours and associated pathologies.
  3. Number of pain related behaviours found to be related and grouped together.
  4. Positive association between ante and post mortem findings (approx 70% agreement) and presence of pain (approx 80% agreement) in donkeys euthanized in UK. 73.5% of donkeys were receiving treatment at the time of euthanasia, including 65% on non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs). General agitation, tachycardia and discomfort; locomotion and stance related behaviours significantly increased the odds of a veterinarian stating that donkey is in pain. General depression and abnormal membranes; general agitation, tachycardia and discomfort; evasive and protective behaviours and locomotion and stance related behaviours significantly increase the odds of a donkey being assessed as having an overall higher degree of pain.
  5. Of donkeys slaughtered in Mexico there was approximately 80% agreement between pain presence ante and post mortem. 6) Figures on prevalence of 6 main pathologies in donkeys presented for slaughter Mexico: alimentary and adnexa lesions (85%) including dental disorders (32%), integument lesions (70%), respiratory disease (48%), musculoskeletal problems (29%), mucoid fat degeneration (29%).

Clear associations between ante/post mortem findings in 70% of cases means potentially 30% of donkeys are being misdiagnosed, this figure highlights the need to progress on current diagnostic tools and differentials. Agreement on presence of pain ante and post mortem was found in approx 80% of UK and Mexican cases, leaving approx 20% with potentially undiagnosed pain. It is possible that type of lesion and the individual clinician may affect this relationship. Lesions found in donkeys presented for slaughter in Mexico are possibly related to malnutrition, pain and stress. The results offer an oversight of the living conditions of the Mexican donkeys and their owners. The presence of anthracosis in donkeys (47.8%) may serve as example.

50 significant underlying relationships between specific behaviour(s) and pain related lesion(s) have been characterised, and an indication of the strength or ability of the pain related lesions to elicit one or all the behaviours of the related behaviour cluster given. The highlighted key behaviours/signs will aid the veterinarians in:

  • Improving differential diagnosis;
  • improving the ability to recognise pain in donkeys and the underlying features. Consequently, enabling a better treatment selection, including suitable analgesia for donkeys;
  • and finally provides a list of behaviours/signs to assist monitoring of treatment enabling an informed assessment of a donkey’s prognosis.