Donkeys require specialist feeding, they are not a small horse and should not be fed as such. They require fewer calories to maintain weight than a pony of the same size, and enjoy trickle feeding on highly fibrous feeds.
Donkeys are particularly prone to obesity and laminitis when kept in the UK and need careful dietary management to avoid problems. The following is basic feeding advice for normal, healthy animals, if you require more specialist advice eg geriatric animals please contact us for further information.
How should I feed my donkey?
- Give your donkey free access to good-quality feeding straw (barley and wheat are best), with small quantities of hay, haylage, or grazing
- Feed a vitamin and mineral supplement or a low energy forage balancer that does not promote weight gain
- Make sure your donkey always has access to fresh clean water
- Have your donkey’s teeth checked at least once a year by a qualified equine dental technician or vet. If your donkey has dental problems, replace long fibres (such as straw, haylage, and hay) with a shortchop diet instead. See our guide on feeding the donkey with dental problems for more information
- Body condition score your donkey regularly. Donkeys are prone to weight gain, which can predispose them to laminitis and hyperlipaemia. See, our guides on how to carry out body condition scoring, Laminitis in Donkeys, and Hyperlipaemia in Donkeys for more information
- Feed according to your donkey’s body condition. Restrict intake of energy-rich feeds (such as hay, haylage, or grass) if your donkey is overweight. Make sure a source of fibre (such as straw) is always available to satisfy your donkey’s need to trickle feed. See our fact sheet on feeding an overweight donkey for more information
- Carefully restrict your donkey’s grazing by limiting the amount of grass that is available
- Make sure any supplementary feeds are high in fibre, low in calories, and suitable for laminitics.
What should I avoid?
- Avoid cereal grain-based feeds. You can maintain your donkey, and even encourage weight gain, on fibre based products. See our factsheet on feeding and managing the underweight donkey for more information
- Do not feed sugary treats. Use natural treats for training or handling purposes. Feed no more than a handful of chopped apples, carrots, or high-fibre nuts each day. See our guide to safe treats and tempters for more information
- Do not feed unnecessary supplements. Unless your vet tells you otherwise, your donkey should only need a vitamin and mineral supplement or forage balancer. Additional supplements may put your donkey off their feed, or cause health problems due to an overdose of nutrients
- Do not provide sugar-based licks. These are often marketed as ‘boredom breakers’ but are not suitable for donkeys due to their high sugar content
- Do not give straw with retained grain to your donkey, either as feed or bedding
- Do not restrict your donkey’s total food intake to encourage weight loss. If your donkey needs to lose weight, feed low-calorie products in combination with exercise. Extreme dieting can put donkeys at risk of developing hyperlipaemia, a potentially fatal condition.
What should I feed my donkey?
An average sized (175 kg) healthy, adult donkey needs 2-3 kg of fibrous food per day to satisfy their appetite. In the majority of cases this should be solely provided by straw, hay/haylage or restricted grazing plus a vitamin and mineral balancer. If your donkey has no dental problems, feed a diet of 75% straw in summer and 50% straw in winter. Make up the remainder of their diet with hay or haylage, or restricted grazing.
- Provide an equine-specific source of vitamins and minerals by means of an unmolassed lick block, a feed supplement or a low calorie forage balancer
- Supplementary feeds suitable for donkeys with specific needs (such as underweight donkeys or those with dental problems) include:
- soaked high-fibre pellets
- short-chop fibre products (chaff)
- unmolassed sugar beet – excellent as a ‘top dressing’ for soaked fibre pellets.
- Avoid feeding your donkey more than 500g of supplementary food at a time. Small frequent meals are best
- Provide free access to salt. Lick blocks are ideal as donkeys can help themselves as and when needed
- Provide safe logs and branches to help satisfy your donkey’s natural browsing behaviour. See Safe Trees and Shrubs for advice on which species are suitable.
Always ensure that donkeys have access to fresh clean water and an equine specific mineral lick if not being fed a vitamin and mineral supplement/balancer. Continually assess your donkey’s body condition and make changes to their diet accordingly. If in doubt, consult your vet or contact our feeding and nutrition team.
- Feeding donkeys (PDF)
- Feeding and managing the overweight donkey (PDF)
- Feeding and managing the underweight donkey (PDF)
- Feeding donkeys straw
- Feeding the donkey with dental problems (PDF)
- Feeding the donkey with endocrine disorders (PDF)
- Feeding the donkey with respiratory conditions (PDF)
- Feeding the laminitic donkey
- Feeding elderly donkeys
- Feeding youngsters and brood mares (PDF)
- Poisonous plants and trees
- Poisonous plants - ragwort
- Safe trees and shrubs for donkeys
- Tasty tempters for donkeys