Donkeys might seem like small horses with funny names, but they are unique and interesting creatures with different dietary needs than those of horses. Donkeys also have sensitive stomachs, and just like with humans, not all foods agree with them. Recognizing what these friendly animals should and shouldn’t eat is the first step in keeping your donkey happy and healthy. In this article, we talk about why corn is bad for donkeys and what they can eat instead. Keep reading to learn more!

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Why Is Corn Bad for Donkeys?

Corn is a type of cereal grain that comes from a plant called the maize plant (Zea mays). It is a staple food in many cultures and is used in a wide variety of foods and products, like corn syrup. But corn contains less fiber and more calories than pasture or hay. While small amounts of corn can be part of a healthy diet for horses, that’s not the case for donkeys.

On the one hand, donkeys are said to have a better digestive system than horses: They have a slower gut transit time and can digest fiber more efficiently. Therefore, they can digest high-fiber forage diets better than other equids. On the other hand, donkeys are more prone to gastrointestinal diseases, such as colic and gastric ulcer syndrome. Some studies have also shown a correlation between donkeys eating grains (such as corn, oats, wheat, and barley) and the development of ulcers.

Other factors that can increase the risk of developing gastrointestinal diseases in donkeys (besides high-starch diets) include chronic stress and hyperlipemia (a serious condition caused by too much fat in the blood).

Donkeys are also prone to weight gain, so feeding them corn (which is high in starch and sugars) may lead to obesity and other serious health issues, such as laminitis.

composition with fresh corn cobs on table
Image Credit: Pixel-Shot, Shutterstock

What Should Donkeys Eat?

Donkeys should be fed a diet high in fiber and low in sugars, starch, protein, and calories. Their energy and protein requirements are much lower than those of other equines.

Therefore, an appropriate diet for donkeys should consist mainly of good-quality barley straw or oat straw (barley is preferred because it is higher in fiber and lower in calories) and limited access to grass.

However, depending on your location, access to quality barley straw can be challenging, hence the general recommendation of giving extra hay to keep your donkey healthy. Rye, timothy, Bermuda, and meadow grass hay are all acceptable types.

Also, keep in mind that while donkeys like to graze all day, they shouldn’t be allowed to do so because they will eat anything in sight, which can cause them to have an array of health issues.

Finally, donkeys could benefit from the addition of vitamins and minerals to their diet, although the exact requirements have yet to be established. You should speak to your veterinarian for advice if you are considering adding supplements to your donkey’s diet.

Water Requirements

Donkeys should have access to fresh, clean water at all times. That said, they can handle temporary water deprivation and then quickly rehydrate when needed.

A donkey drinking water from a watering place
Image Credit: Geza Farkas, Shutterstock

What Treats Can You Give Your Donkey?

Although corn is off-limits, you can offer other treats to your donkey. However, remember that these animals tend to gain weight easily, so don’t overdo these delicious treats — give them one or two a day max!

  • Carrots
  • Pears
  • Celery
  • Parsnips
  • Apples
  • Bananas

Tips for Keeping Your Donkey Healthy

Here are a few tips to help prevent certain health problems in donkeys that can be linked to poor nutrition:

  • Donkeys are considered “trickle feeders,” meaning they only need small amounts of food at a time. Feeding donkeys large meals could also increase their risk of developing gastric ulcers.
  • Watch out for tansy ragwort in hay. Ragwort is a weed that infests woodlands, pastures, and hay meadows on the northwest coast of the U.S., and it is highly toxic to donkeys (and to all other classes of livestock!).
  • Donkeys can easily become obese if they have unrestricted access to pasture. Installing a fence will allow you to better control your donkey’s grass consumption.
  • Older donkeys require special dietary attention, as they are prone to certain dental diseases that can prevent them from chewing hay and straw properly.
  • Monitor your donkey’s health and body condition closely. Consult your veterinarian quickly if you notice a deterioration in their state of health or behavior.

Note that since donkeys are stoic by nature, they are not prone to show pain, hence the importance of being alert for the slightest signs of illness or distress.

Donkey eating grass near the river
Image Credit: Elstef, Pixabay


Bottom Line

Feeding corn to donkeys can lead to gastrointestinal problems, like ulcers and colic, and promote obesity and other potentially serious health issues. Instead of corn, donkeys should be fed a high-fiber diet that primarily includes barley straw and grass hay. With the right type of food, your donkey will have a better chance of a long and healthy life. But be sure to keep a close eye on your little equid’s physical condition and overall health, as these hardy animals are experts at hiding symptoms of pain or distress.

Featured Image Credit: mute_gemini, Pixabay