Researchers pinpoint how to tell when a donkey is feeling better

Detecting signs of pain in donkeys can be difficult.
Detecting signs of pain in donkeys can be challenging. Photo: The Brooke

A newly published study has identified the changes in behaviour that donkeys show when they are relieved from pain.

The research, funded by international equine welfare charity the Brooke, and conducted by Brooke Pakistan and Britain’s University of Bristol, will help the Brooke improve welfare for animals across the world.

There are over 40 million donkeys working in extreme conditions around the world every day, supporting the livelihoods of millions of people.

The study, titled “Identifying behavioural differences in working donkeys in response to analgesic administration”, aimed to record behaviour displayed by donkeys when they are in pain.

The study involved giving a single dose of a proprietary oral anti-inflammatory drug to 20 donkeys suffering from common medical conditions, including poor hoof quality, wounds and lameness. A placebo was given to 20 other donkeys suffering from a similar range of medical conditions.

Before receiving either the proprietary medication or a honey and water solution, donkeys showed a variety of different behaviours, including closing their eyes for lengthy periods, dozing on their feet, and lowering their heads.

The results indicated that afterwards, the group that received the medication showed a decrease in all these behaviour traits, and an increase in alertness.

The findings of the study will be used by the Brooke to inform staff working in field programmes to more effectively help working donkeys, and also to enable them to train owners to recognise when their donkey is suffering and needs help.

Field workers with The Brooke will be telling donkey owners what signs to look out for that indicate an animal is in discomfort. Photo: The Brooke

Melissa Upjohn, Research Coordinator for the Brooke said: “It is recognised that donkeys’ response to pain is different from horses and the behavioural traits they display can be more subtle, so it can be challenging to identify when they are in pain.

“We’re delighted that it’s been possible to generate evidence about the way they behave in response to pain, most importantly, because when we’re working with donkeys and training owners and community health service providers, we can more accurately recognise how donkeys act when they’re ill or injured.”

Dr Becky Whay, reader in animal welfare and behaviour in the School of Veterinary Sciences at the University of Bristol, said working horses and donkeys supported the livelihoods of some of the world’s poorest people.

“These animals are often overburdened and used for long hours in harsh conditions.

“We hope our research will make a difference to the lives of these animals and our work will advise owners and vets on how to better look after their animals.”

The study has been featured in a recent open access collection, published online in October 2014 by the Equine Veterinary Journal and sponsored by World Horse Welfare. The full text is available to view here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.