As dental disease is second only to donkey hoof problems as the most common medical condition of the donkey. Prevention is key to maintaining good oral health in your donkeys.

The Donkey Sanctuary has produced this guide to aid owners and carers to recognise and prevent dental health problems. Donkeys may have anywhere between 16-44 teeth depending on age, gender and the presence of small non-functional wolf teeth.

Donkeys evolved to roam around 15 km a day in very arid climates across rugged terrain, in search of sparse and coarse grasses as well as other fibrous plant materials. In order to cope with long duration feeding of highly abrasive feed matter, donkeys have developed long-crowned teeth that are designed to wear constantly. Donkeys have a finite amount of teeth available, and as the chewing surface wears, the long crown held in reserve erupts towards the point at which the upper and lower teeth meet.

During adolescence, the donkey will shed the temporary ‘milk’ teeth, to allow for the permanent teeth to take their place. This shedding takes place at regular intervals, starting with the central incisors from around the age of 2-3 years. The mouth is not dentally complete until around five years of age. It is important that the milk teeth or ‘caps’ are shed at the correct time; if they are retained they are likely to cause infection, pain and trauma. If they shed too soon, the underlying permanent tooth may not have had sufficient time to develop fully. Even if the tooth looks normal, it will be at much greater risk of increased wear and cavities.

Dental care as part of donkey management

All donkeys should have their teeth regularly checked by an appropriate professional. It is important that they are checked soon after birth to identify any serious problems. From then on it is recommended that all donkeys are checked twice annually, as their teeth shed, erupt and wear at a rapid rate while young. Your equine dental technician or vet will advise you of appropriate appointments specific to your donkey. 

For geriatric donkeys, it is probable that dental check-ups will be needed more frequently. It is the owner’s responsibility to employ an appropriate person to complete dental assessments and procedures, and with the current explosion of practitioners, this is no easy task. It is highly recommended that you consult either an equine dental technician or vet who has gained the BEVA/BVDA qualifications and are members of the BAEDT. Do not wait until your donkey loses weight, has difficulty or stops eating, or develops bad breath - dental problems are likely to be severe in these cases.

Prevention is key to maintaining good oral health

There is also no need to wait until your donkey’s teeth are razor sharp, or you notice any of the typical warning signs before booking an appointment with your equine dental technician or vet. Dental treatments are much more effective when carried out at regular intervals.

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Information for donkey owners