Bonding behaviour

Donkeys generally form lifelong friendships and do not like to be alone. Bonded donkey friends may become distressed if they are separated and this can lead to complications such as inappetence and colic. Inappetence in donkeys can lead to a potentially fatal condition known as hyperlipaemia and should be avoided if at all possible. Bonding behaviour should always be considered by donkey owners. If possible, both the donkey and its companion should be kept together in the same stable, and in the same field to avoid any unnecessary distress. If one of the donkeys is euthanased, it is essential that the surviving donkey is allowed to remain with the body of their friend, until they have lost interest. If this advice is not followed it can cause significant distress to the surviving donkey. The possibility of finding a new companion for the surviving donkey should be addressed by the owner immediately.


Hyperlipaemia is a life-threatening disease to which donkeys are particularly prone, both as a primary or secondary condition.  It is therefore essential that any donkey owner is aware of measures taken to prevent, identify and treat this disease. Basically, hyperlipaemia occurs when animals mobilise triglyceride from body fat reserves in response to a negative energy balance. The end result is multi-organ failure as lipid is deposited in the liver and kidneys.

  • Body condition: The prevalence of the disease is in fat and obese animals due to higher body fat reserves and increased insulin resistance.
  • Stress: Donkeys are more susceptible to hyperlipaemia in times of stress such as transportation and environmental change.
  • Age: Older animals are more prone to the disease.
  • Sex: Mares are more likely to develop the disease than males.

Clinical signs include, but are not limited to the following:

  • Dullness/depression
  • Inappetence/anorexia
  • Gut stasis
  • Halitosis

A comprehensive guide to the treatment of hyperlipaemia is beyond the scope of this article, however the basic principles include:

  1. Treat any underlying disease
  2. Fluid therapy.
  3. Medication: Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), analgesics, anti-ulcer medication, multivitamins, anabolic steroids, antibiotics.
  4. Nutritional support: maintain a positive energy balance.


Mortality rates of 60-90% have been reported. Prognosis improves if the syndrome is detected in the early stages and prompt action is taken.


Donkeys are not just small horses with big ears! There are many physiological differences to consider in comparison to horses. Donkey owners be aware of the behavioural differences and specific nutritional needs. In return, donkeys will provide endless amounts of affection and entertainment for their carers.

Many thanks to Rippingale BSc (Hons), REVN, G-SQP, DipHE CVN, DipAVN (Equine), IQA, Registered Equine Veterinary Nurse and also huge donkey fan! For producing this information for our website


If you have any questions about Lower House Equine Clinic, our facilities or services, please feel free to contact us using any of the details below…

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