Research at The Donkey Sanctuary is carried out in collaboration with many experts in the UK and overseas.

We have a team of dedicated scientists and veterinarians carrying out ‘in-house’ research. An important part of this work is the publication of these studies and as such we ensure all findings are published in peer-reviewed journals or presented at relevant conferences.

Drug companies are not interested in developing donkey-specific products as the market is considered to be too small, and there are – unlike horses - no big sporting events to generate sponsorships. As a result of this, historically very little has been produced in the way of donkey-specific data. So we have been working hard to try in our own way to redress this balance as much as we can.

When we describe our projects as ‘non-invasive’ this means that we do not carry out any research that could cause pain or distress to the animals involved. For example we do not take blood samples or other tissue samples for the sole purposes of research and we do not place animals under stress (for example by removing a companion animal) for such purposes either.

 

Key Scientific publications

Hyperlipaemia

Hyperlipemia is a common disorder of the donkey, with mortality rates of up to 80% reported. Such a poor prognosis makes prevention of this disorder or amelioration in the early stages crucial.

In 2011 we conducted research into the condition, with the objective of describing and determining the prevalence of hyperlipemia in a population of donkeys and to determine risk factors for development in the disease.

The study concluded that the population of donkeys in the UK often develops hyperlipemia, particularly in response to stress or primary illness, and provides useful insights in to health and management risk factors that may be addressed to decrease the risk of hyperlipemia both in the study population and in other similar donkey populations.

Feeding review

In 2011 we published a paper on the practical feeding and condition scoring of donkeys. Donkeys have evolved to thrive on highly fibrous, poor quality foodstuffs and have evolved as browsers as well as grazers. As such, they have different nutrient requirements with significantly lower energy and protein needs when compared with horses. 

Dietary management of donkeys is essential when kept in a temperate climate as they are prone to obesity and related disorders.

A diet based on fibrous forages and limited grazing is usually sufficient for the majority of donkeys and mules.

Read our full list of published findings on our research-specific area for professionals.

International resources

We train cart and harness makers around the world in the best techniques to prevent working donkeys and mules from suffering. Our work is supported by a range of written guides and videos, available here to watch or download.

Clinical Companion of the Donkey

Comprehensive information about donkey treatment, including chapters on nutrition, diseases and parasitology, can be found in our handbook, the Clinical Companion of the Donkey.