‘Donkey whisperers’ learn a silent equine language

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Spotting signs of pain and clinical problems in donkeys is always difficult as they tend to ‘suffer in silence’. © The Brooke
Spotting signs of pain and clinical problems in donkeys is always difficult as they tend to ‘suffer in silence’. © The Brooke

Donkeys in Pakistan are being watched very closely by owners and veterinarians following research correlating behavioural issues with illness and lameness in the animals.

In a collaboration with the University of Bristol, vets with the Brooke equine welfare charity in Pakistan looked at whether they could ascertain whether a donkey is in pain by observation alone.

The research looked at the proportion of working donkeys in Pakistan that are affected by painful conditions and also investigated behavioural patterns that may help in identifying these conditions. The behaviour of 134 male donkeys was observed before they were examined by Brooke vets.

This is the final paper of three. The two earlier studies were based on signs donkeys show when they are relived of pain, and on their behavioural and emotional states.

Spotting signs of pain and clinical problems in donkeys is always difficult as they tend to ‘suffer in silence’. © The Brooke
Mohammad Aslam owns Jugnu, a 7 year old donkey and her foal Billu, who is just 22 days old. The owner regularly visits the Brooke at Phathak Community Working Place (CWP). When the owner came along to the centre with Jugnu and Billu, Jugnu was slow and unenthusiastic about working, which made the owner worried because otherwise she is very hard working and helps the owner support his family’s daily livelihood. After careful examination the Brooke vet concluded that the mare was weak due to over work, and anxiety. Due to these issues she has little interest in her surroundings and work. © The Brooke

The combined findings of these studies can be applied by all those working with donkeys to improve understanding of behaviour and to improve ways of identifying their welfare needs even when veterinary equipment is not available.

Melissa Upjohn, who is Research Coordinator at the Brooke said: “Owners and local health providers come into contact with animals affected by conditions that aren’t always easy to diagnose without equipment. Whilst some conditions – such as the 97 per cent of the donkeys seen who had abnormal lung sounds – do require a stethoscope and a quiet area to do an examination, there are other problems, such as the 98 per cent of donkeys that were lame, for which behaviour such as weight shifting and leg lifting, may enable them to be identified visually whilst at rest.

“The Brooke is concentrating on training local service providers and owners so they can better look after their animals, and research like this helps us to make this training both practical and evidence based.”

Dr Becky Whay, Reader in Animal Welfare and Behaviour in the School of Veterinary Sciences, added: “Spotting signs of pain and clinical problems in donkeys is always difficult as they tend to ‘suffer in silence’. By carefully studying their behaviour we have started to learn how to recognise much more reliably when they are in pain and in need of attention.”

Clinical abnormalities in working donkeys and their associations with behaviour
F. H. Regan (nee Ashley), J. Hockenhull, J. C. Pritchard, A. E. Waterman-Pearson, H. R. Whay;
Published on March 5, 2015 in the Veterinary Record Open
The full text is available here.

www.thebrooke.org

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