If you’ve adopted a donkey or one was given to you on your farm or homestead, you may have no earthly clue what to feed them. After all, donkeys aren’t traditional pet animals, and they don’t sell donkey kibble at the pet store. If you already have goats and get a donkey, you might wonder if donkeys can eat goat feed and if it’s good for them. The answer, unfortunately, is that even though donkeys will gladly eat goat food, donkeys shouldn’t eat goat feed because it isn’t healthy for them.

Donkeys don’t need the extra iron, copper, protein, and other vitamins and minerals usually added to goat feed. All these extra nutrients can cause several health issues, some of which are quite severe.

You may have other questions about their food and what donkeys can and can’t eat. What’s the best food to feed a donkey, for example, and what will happen if you provide goat feed to a donkey? Read on for the answers to these questions and several more, plus real-world advice and tips on feeding donkeys.


Why Shouldn’t Donkeys Eat Goat Feed?

One reason donkeys shouldn’t be fed goat feed is that donkeys have far different nutritional needs than goats. Goat feed is typically infused with several vitamins and minerals that donkeys don’t need, including copper and iron. Plus, goat feed usually has more protein than donkeys need and doesn’t contain enough salt.

Since they digest their food differently, a donkey may feel “full” after eating goat feed but still not have received the nutrients it requires to stay healthy. Also (and this is critical), medicated goat feed can be fatal to a donkey. Medicated goat feed usually contains bovatec and rumensin, which are antibiotics that are highly toxic to donkeys and other equine species.

What Will Happen if a Donkey Eats Goat Feed?

If your donkey occasionally eats a little unmedicated goat feed, there’s no cause for alarm. Its body will deal with the extra vitamins, minerals, and protein like any other food. However, if they eat goat feed a lot, they may start showing signs of health issues. For example, the high iron levels in goat feed could cause hemochromatosis or hepatopathy. The former is a problem that negatively affects your donkey’s blood, and the latter condition will affect its liver. Both can be very unhealthy and dangerous for your donkey.

If your donkey eats medicated goat feed, the results could be deadly, especially if they eat a lot of medicated feed. The symptoms will usually start as restlessness, incoordination, and heavy sweating. Within 12 to 36 hours, however, there’s a very high possibility that your donkey will die. Even if they eat a small amount of medicated goat feed, your donkey could suffer permanent damage to their heart and other major organs.

sick looking donkey lying on the ground
Image Credit: meunierd, Shutterstock

hoof print divider

How To Prevent Your Donkey from Eating Goat Feed

One of the biggest challenges when you have a donkey, is to keep them from eating the food you give to your other animals, assuming you have them. Donkeys will take every opportunity they can get to eat whatever they can. If you have goats and feed your goats and donkeys in the same general area, there’s a high probability that your donkey will eat your goat’s feed.

There are several things you can do to prevent this. The first is to feed your donkeys in a different place away from your other animals. Another method is to put up fences that separate your donkeys from your goats and other livestock. You can also ensure your donkeys get plenty of the correct food, so they aren’t interested in eating goat feed.

Lastly, you can get a creep feeder. Creep feeders are large devices found on many farms that allow you to feed certain animals while not letting other animals eat. You do this by adjusting the gap where they stick their head and mouth to grab the feed. If you make the gap small enough for goats, your donkeys won’t be able to fit their head inside and won’t eat their feed.

donkey and goat eati
Image Credit: Cejka Jan, Shutterstock

Is All Goat Feed Unsuitable for Donkeys?

It’s worth noting that not all goat feed is unsuitable for donkeys. The difference comes from how the feed is made. For example, if you make your goat feed at home (or on your farm) and don’t fortify the ingredients with extra iron, protein, copper, and so forth, both your goats and your donkeys will have no problem eating the feed.


Why Is Protein Bad for Donkeys?

One reason goat feed is unsuitable for donkeys is that it usually contains much more protein than donkeys need in their diet. The question is, however, why is protein bad for donkeys? It’s well known that protein is necessary for all mammals and that they can’t sustain life without it. Below are several health problems that too much protein can cause.


A diet too high in protein will also cause a donkey’s body to become “over acidic.” This problem, in turn, can cause a donkey’s heart to beat incorrectly (arrhythmia). Over-acidity can also cause the breakdown of the hard and soft tissue of a donkey’s body, including its bones and organs. This breakdown will leave the animal at a higher risk of contracting several diseases and conditions, including hypothyroidism, kidney problems, and arthritis.

Bone Demineralization

Another problem caused by a diet too high in protein is that your donkey’s body will start to take minerals from other parts of its body to offset the high acidity. Minerals are alkaline, and your donkey’s body will do its best to become more alkaline if it’s too acidic. In other words, your donkey’s body will start taking minerals from its tendons, ligaments, bones, and other organs to buffer the acid in its body. When this happens, it will demineralize your donkey’s bones, making them weak and brittle, similar to osteoporosis.

Even worse, you might believe everything is fine until your donkey suddenly starts fracturing bones, having trouble walking, and having other health concerns. These signs and symptoms usually start at 7 to 9 years of age.

Good Bacteria in Your Donkey’s Gut Will Be Destroyed

This last problem caused by overeating protein will affect your donkey’s GI tract and the good bacteria. As we’ve seen, too much protein causes a donkey’s body to become acidic. This acidity can kill the good bacteria in their intestines or force them into dormancy.

Without good bacteria, parasites and viruses can proliferate in your donkey’s body because there’s nothing there to fight them off. The bacteria, viruses, and parasites will continue to increase until they cause severe health problems for your animal.

Cotentin donkey looking straight in the field of a farm
Image Credit: Wirestock Creators, Shutterstock


Which Shrubs and Trees Are Poisonous to a Donkey?

Below is a quick list of the trees and shrubs you should keep away from your donkey and what problems they can cause.

  • Black Walnut tree: causes laminitis (aka founder)
  • Red Maple tree: it can cause problems for their kidneys
  • Oak tree: causes GI issues like colic
  • Oleander shrub: it can cause serious heart issues
  • Japanese Yew shrub: it can cause heart conditions

You must keep these trees and shrubs far from your donkey. Also, you need to ensure that parts of these trees and shrubs aren’t mixed with their feed or bedding. You should also check to be sure that your donkey can’t reach any of these trees and shrubs from wherever they are being kept outside.

Feeds Made for Other Animals Aren’t Suitable for Donkeys

Feed made for animals like chickens, goats, cows, pigs, and others is designed for the nutrition needs of that particular animal. That goes for horse feed, too. Even though horses and donkeys are equines, horses have specific nutritional needs that donkeys don’t, and vice versa.

That’s why it’s best not to give your donkey feed from another animal, as their dietary needs don’t always match and, in some cases, can be significantly different.

hoof print divider

Final Thoughts

Although a small amount of unmedicated goat feed won’t hurt your donkey, a goat feed diet can be harmful, and it’s best to use healthier alternatives. Goats and donkeys have different nutritional needs, and goat feed contains too much protein, iron, and other nutrients that, in high amounts, can affect your donkey’s health. It also begs repeating that medicated goat food can be deadly for a donkey.

Other animal feeds should also be kept away from your donkey for the same reason. In short, the best feed to give your donkey is feed made for donkeys, so their specific needs are always met, and they don’t get too much of anything that can harm their health. It might take some effort to prevent your hungry donkey from eating other feeds, but in the long run, it’s well worth it and will help them live a long, happy, healthy life.

Featured Image Credit: manavyemexport, Pixabay