Find out the various problems and cures that can occur to your donkeys hooves and how to keep your donkeys' feet healthy.
Donkeys’ feet are very different to horses’ hooves as they have adapted to survive in a dry environment. Donkeys thrive in semi-arid parts of the world, where the ground is dry and stony. Their feet are much more efficient than horses at absorbing water, but this means that when donkeys are kept in the UK, on lush, wet pasture, their feet can become soft and they often suffer from foot diseases. Therefore, it’s important to have the correct hoof care in place.
Trimming donkey hooves
Most donkeys will require a foot trim every 6-10 weeks, but care should be taken with older donkeys who might struggle to lift their limbs. You should aim to keep limbs as low as possible during trimming.
If a donkey's foot becomes overgrown you should obtain a radiograph prior to trimming to check for any changes to the bone within the hoof. A vet should also be consulted for pain relief.
Donkey hoof problems
Due to our wetter climate in the UK, donkeys are more susceptible to foot diseases, yet most are entirely preventable.
When a donkey gets seedy toe, otherwise known as white line disease, the white line area becomes weak and crumbly. Seedy toe lesions are rarely painful unless there is extensive hoof instability, but the widened white line may allow the entry of foreign objects and organisms. Often little stones and dirt can get stuck in the space under the horny part of the hoof, causing the donkey pain or an infection.
Seedy toe is treated by cutting out the affected part of the hoof wall. All dead and discoloured material should be removed to allow the new healthy horn to grow down. Exposure is necessary to minimise the chance of infection. In severe cases, your farrier should work with a vet to make sure that the work does not cause any instability to the hoof.
Once treated, the donkey must also be kept on clean, dry ground until fully recovered.
Thrush is an infection of the underneath of the foot, particularly affecting the frog. It has a distinctive, unpleasant smell. It is often associated with keeping the donkey in wet conditions.
Thrush is prevented by keeping the feet clean and dry as much as possible.
Laminitis in donkeys is a veterinary emergency. It is a very painful disease often with irreversible consequences. There are several causes of laminitis: too much rich food, infection or pregnancy. The consequence is a destruction of the support mechanism of the toe bone within the hoof, such that the toe bone can rotate or move downwards.
If your donkey is unwilling to walk, lying down more than usual and has easily felt pulses in the blood vessels around the fetlock, you should contact your vet immediately as this could be a sign of laminitis. Do not make the donkey walk but place in a well-bedded stable, with easy access to food and water until the vet arrives.
The laminitic foot may require more frequent trimming and radiographs for monitoring. During treatment, frog supports or heart bar shoes are not appropriate as they could exacerbate the issue. Instead you should pad the entire sole using thick cotton wool and bandages.
In some laminitic donkeys the sole may be too thin to trim. If radiographs are not available then use your thumb to pressure test and check for yielding of the sole. You should stop trimming once this point is reached. In these cases, it may also be appropriate to apply rim shoes for support.
Usually the result of a wound that penetrates the sole or white line. An abscess can develop in the foot when the wound is infected and pus builds up. Such wounds can be a cause of Tetanus so ensure that the donkey is protected by vaccination or ask your vet how to protect the donkey.
If you suspect an abscess, you should seek veterinary advice. The vet may recommend a poultice, to help draw the infection out of the foot and/or cut away the abscess with a hoof knife to help the infection to drain out.
An abscess in the foot is intensely painful and requires urgent veterinary attention.