Donkeys are not small horses with big ears.

Having a knowledge and understanding of the unique characteristics of a donkey is valuable when handling, examining or carrying out a procedure.

Donkeys’ behaviour is different from that of horses and ponies and it is crucial that this is taken into account when examine or attempting to carry out veterinary procedures.

Their behaviour is often incorrectly labelled as stubborn, but a more accurate explanation for their behaviour is likely to be their sense of self-preservation.

Donkeys are unlikely to show the dramatic signs of pain and distress exhibited by the horse and pony, even though it may be experiencing the same degree of pain.

This makes inspection difficult and illness, pain and even severe conditions can be missed. It is vital to understand the behaviour of the donkey in order to recognise subtle changes that may indicate serious illness that requires immediate attention.

As part of our aim to ensure that every donkey in the UK can live a happy and healthy life, we will be improving professional support networks so that donkey-specific information regarding behaviour and veterinary treatment is easily-accessible.

Donkeys have a reason for everything they do. Their behaviour is controlled and influenced by a wide range of factors. By establishing the motivation for the behaviour, the cause can be established, and by removing this cause, there will be a change in the donkey’s behaviour.

Whether it is genetics, their environment, pain, medical conditions, previous experiences, human interaction, training or something else; misunderstanding of the donkey’s true nature can be a common cause of problems.

In April 2018, The Donkey Sanctuary released The Clinical Companion of the Donkey, a definitive text for clinicians and professionals. For the first time, a new chapter on donkey behaviour has been included, as this is fundamental to understanding this unique animal.

Ben Hart, behaviourist at The Donkey Sanctuary, says: “Behaviour is everything, when it comes to treating any animal, the animal’s behaviour is the first sign of illness, a measure of severity and likely cause. If you understand the animal’s normal behaviour it is easy to assess changes as they occur.

“However, donkeys aren’t small horses with big ears, their behaviour is very different, so understanding the fundamental difference between donkey and horse behaviour, covered in this book, is crucial in early recognition of problems and correct treatment of donkeys and mules. The donkeys’ stoic nature, reduced flight mechanism and tendencies to show less fear signals are vital to understand for anyone who wants to stay safe and make informed diagnoses when treating donkeys.”