The second most common veterinary medical problem encountered by the donkey is dental disease. Every year, donkeys in the UK are euthanased through neglect to their oral health having first endured the chronic, widespread effects of severe oral disorders.
Often with the best intentions, experienced owners, carers and even some health care providers (vets, equine dental technicians, etc) are not aware enough of the differences between horses and donkeys and their specific requirements; more so in very advanced cases. There are still instances of succumbing to the notion that donkeys are the poor relatives of the horse and hence not much importance is afforded to their rights for high quality care; after all, they’re stoic right? Or could it be that we can’t read the signs as a painful donkey can often just look dull.
One in ten donkeys entering the Sanctuary are compassionately euthanased within 3 years of their return/relinquishment because their quality of life diminishes severely and irretrievably. The average age for these donkeys is 21 years; 77% have moderate to very severe dental disease. These donkeys are not necessarily euthanased solely due to dental disease, but being unable to grasp or chew food thoroughly enough to swallow, or perhaps harbouring the painful infection of gum disease when otherwise ill or when suffering multiple conditions places a huge and largely unnecessary burden on the animal’s quality of life and prognosis.
It takes less than 5 years for a donkey with good oral health and conformation to deteriorate to serious levels of disease. In a donkey with poor oral conformation (congenital displacements for example), dental health may decline over just a few months in the absence of appropriate treatment.
Contrary to popular belief; donkeys usually start out with good teeth, yet over time their dental health declines severely. Thorough, high quality preventative dental care needs to be performed at fixed, regular intervals from an early age.
The vast majority of donkeys entering the Sanctuary have no previous dental history; compare this to the 86% of owners stating they provide their donkeys with regular dental checks and we have to question if ALL service providers are offering quality care?
The Sanctuary has focussed a drive on improving dental health amongst donkeys in the UK but we still find small numbers of owners making uninformed decisions when selecting service providers or even not providing dental assessments at all. The problem in the UK is that the cowboys rarely wear Stetsons; the nice friendly ‘dentist’ who local people swear by may have received very little or even no formal training at all (regrettably, this is currently legal). Unfortunately, should anything go wrong, or if a problem arises, your insurance company may refuse to cover your animals if you have employed an unqualified dental technician. We wholeheartedly recommend that you use only qualified vets or equine dental technicians that are members of the British Association of Dental Technicians (BAEDT).
Donkeys under treatment by BAEDT members have much lower levels of dental pathology. Unfortunately, the amount of donkeys treated by BAEDT members is around 1% of the population of the donkeys relinquished to the Sanctuary.
For more information on donkey dentistry, please see our dental information booklet.
To find a BAEDT member in your area, please visit the British Association of Equine Dental Technicians website.