Our pathology laboratory is responsible for all diagnostic work on our own donkeys, gives advice and support to other professionals, and accepts samples from donkeys and mules across the UK.

The pathology laboratory is a vital facet of The Donkey Sanctuary's work. Based next to our hospital at Brookfield Farm, the laboratory is where we run all our own in-house analytical tests and post-mortem examinations (PME). The information gathered from these tests and examinations informs research that is integral to improving the lives of donkeys both in the UK and abroad. For example, we have seen a 70% reduction in fatal impaction colic cases at The Donkey Sanctuary as a result of the work we've undertaken to engender change in our farms' feeding management.

The team

Our diverse team come from a variety of academic backgrounds and bring a wealth of knowledge and expertise to the pathology laboratory. Team members include: two qualified vets, an equine nutritionist with related PhD and Masters degrees, scientists with BSc and BSc (Hons) degrees in a variety of biological sciences, Higher National Diploma (HND) students in animal care and a Higher National Certificate (HNC) student in laboratory science.

Our pathologist is a Member of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and also an Associate Member of the Royal College of Pathologists. He is currently working towards becoming a Fellow of the Royal College of Pathologists.

What we do

The pathology laboratory provides critical diagnostic support to the veterinary department. Our analytical services are able to turn over urgent blood results within an hour - which can mean the difference between life and death for a seriously ill donkey. Getting the right diagnosis is vitally important in deciding the correct course of treatment, whereupon our tests can also be used to verify that the treatment is working. Our review of biochemistry and haematology reference ranges, for example, has had a profound effect on our ability to diagnose and treat hyperlipaemia in its early stages.

We carry out:

  • Blood analysis (including haematology, biochemistry, and endocrinology testing)
  • Urine analysis
  • Basic cytology (examining the structure and pathology of cells)
  • Skin scrapings and checking for external parasites such as lice or mites
  • Dung analysis to check for internal parasites
  • Post-mortem examinations on all donkeys that pass away on locally based farms that belong to The Donkey Sanctuary.

With the wide range of testing we undertake, we can diagnose a vast array of different diseases and disorders ranging from hyperlipaemia, anaemia, liver disease, colitis and Pituitary Pars Intermedia Dysfunction (PPID), which indicates the risk of laminitis.

We have a lab dedicated to parasitology, which is where we look for the presence of internal parasites (or worms) in donkey dung - around 500 faecal samples are processed a week. We look for lungworm, liver fluke, tapeworm, ascarids and strongyles. Donkey dung samples are collected naturally (from dropped faeces) on a carefully calculated rotation basis to enable us to identify the donkeys within each farm that are the highest egg shedders. We are then able to monitor and treat these donkeys in order to avoid contamination of the environment and spread to other donkeys and mules.

We routinely screen all our newly arrived donkeys for internal parasites in addition to any donkeys showing signs of ill health.

Donkey-specific information and support to vets

We receive blood samples from donkeys and mules daily from private veterinary practices and results are processed and emailed back to the veterinary practice the same day.

Laboratory submissions

A quick turnaround in results helps vets to make vital diagnostic decisions for sometimes critically ill donkeys. Our machines are calibrated to give donkey-specific results, which are different to the horse's reference ranges.

We are always willing to offer support and advice to private vets.

Our knowledge base and technical resources

Our work has resulted in an extensive body of research papers, images and case studies, including technical resources for equine professionals to download and use.

Help for donkeys in Donkey Guardian and private homes

We do not charge for our services, or for our advice. Our aim is to improve the health and welfare of donkeys globally.