Losing an animal and loved one is never easy, but it is inevitable. A donkey's quality of life may gradually deteriorate and requires very careful and objective monitoring.
Quality of life
Donkeys are very stoic in nature, and as old age ensues painful conditions become more common, such as arthritis, dental disease, foot problems and compromised breathing.
You may find it helpful to ask your vet’s opinion and start to keep a diary of your donkey’s behaviour. Serious illness can affect a donkey of any age and may seriously compromise quality of life, resulting in euthanasia being the best and kindest option.
Euthanasia is an important final act in the care of your donkey. It is always a painful decision but one that must be taken when their quality of life deteriorates. Assessing quality of life is not easy, especially if you see the donkey every day, which makes it difficult to notice gradual changes in their health and well-being. Although each donkey will be different, the following points should be considered when assessing quality of life:
- Is your donkey able to move around freely and comfortably, particularly when turned out?
- Is your donkey being bullied by other animals in the herd?
- Is your donkey able to lie down and get up again unaided without difficulty?
- Is your donkey able to roll without any difficulty?
- Is your donkey able to eat comfortably and maintain a healthy body condition?
- Is your donkey displaying its normal behaviour?
- Is your donkey generally healthy or is it suffering from any conditions that are affecting its physical or mental well-being?
- Has your donkey’s breathing deteriorated to the point where it is persistently uncomfortable?
- Does your donkey seem happy?
The death of a treasured animal friend is always sad but euthanasia should never be regarded as a failure of your care in any way - it may well be the last good thing you can do for your donkey.
Plans for euthanasia are best made sooner rather than later. You may never need to put the plan into action but it is easier not to have to contend with the practicalities at a very difficult time. There are two methods of euthanasia available, both of which you should discuss with your vet:
- An overdose of an anaesthetic-type drug given by injection
- The use of a humane killer pistol.
Think about how you would wish your donkey’s body to be dealt with. Would you prefer to bury your donkey at home? There are certain restrictions on this, such as not burying near a water course, and the practicalities of creating a grave must be considered. Different regions of the UK have different regulations regarding the burial of animals, so find out well in advance what is legal in your area to avoid problems and time delays later. Cremation is another option. Your vet will be able to offer you information on local services including collection and disposal by various means.
Consider where euthanasia should best take place. The area should be safe and have a soft surface; if the area is familiar to your donkey this will be least distressing. However, you do have to consider the practicalities of removing the body from small or difficult to access areas such as stables.
Also consider whether you feel able to be with your donkey at this time. If not, ask your vet if they can bring an assistant or ask a donkey-aware friend to be present. If your donkey gets distressed in the presence of strangers or vets, ask your vet if some prior in-feed sedation can be provided.
Other donkeys and companions
Donkeys form strong bonds with their companions and it is essential that surviving donkeys are allowed to remain with the body of their friend until they have lost interest. Ignoring this advice can lead to significant distress and anxiety among any surviving donkeys. They may show persistent wandering, pacing and braying, as they look for the missing donkey. They may go into a hyperlipaemic crisis as a result of the stress. Please allow at least an hour before the body of the donkey is removed. Closely monitor the bereaved companion(s) for several weeks afterwards as bereavement stress can manifest itself up to three weeks after the death of a friend and result in hyperlipaemia. All donkey owners should be aware of this condition as it carries a high risk of death even when recognised and treated promptly. Extra attention and time spent with your donkey(s) will help, but don’t be tempted to offer a lot of extra treats, which can be habit-forming and may lead to obesity. If you do decide to obtain a new donkey companion then consideration should be given to getting one of a similar age and size, whose behavioural and physical needs will match the needs of your existing donkey(s).
After the death of a donkey you are legally required to inform the relevant Passport Issuing Organisation (PIO) and return the passport to them within 30 days. Many PIOs will return the passport to you afterwards if you request it as a memento. If you are a Donkey Guardian please return the donkey's passport to our Welfare department.
Dealing with your loss
Don’t underestimate the grieving process, as the death of a donkey is not an easy event to cope with. For many people it is like losing a very dear friend and feelings of deep grief are completely normal. There is no need to feel embarrassed about mourning the loss of your donkey friend and it may be helpful to talk to friends or family who understand the size of your loss. If you feel you need more dedicated help there are specialist pet bereavement counsellors who you may find it helpful to contact.
If you are planning ahead a number of useful resources are available on the Internet:
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Information for donkey owners