Donkeys graze on grass throughout the day. In total, grass should make up about 25% of a donkey’s diet during the summer and warmer months. The other 75% should be straw, which is a great feed for donkeys.

In winter and colder months, a healthy donkey diet would be made up of around 50% straw, and 50% hay or haylage.

But what happens if a donkey has too much grass? As with most things in life, too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. Grass for donkeys is no different. In fact, access to too much sugary grass can lead to a painful condition known as “grass founder”, or “laminitis.”

Keep reading to learn more about laminitis and see what a healthy donkey diet looks like.

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What is Laminitis in Donkeys?

Laminitis1 is a condition that’s often—not always—caused by an unhealthy, sugary diet. In laminitis, the laminae (the sensitive tissue inside the hoof) becomes inflamed. This can lead to the coffin bone, or the pedal bone, becoming loose. When this happens, the coffin bone rotates downwards and digs into the sole, causing extreme pain and sometimes permeant damage.

Causes of Laminitis

There are several causes of laminitis, including:

  • Too much grass in their diet
  • A diet that’s high in carbohydrates and sugars
  • Aggressive infections that lead to sepsis
  • Stress, such as the loss of a companion, or sudden changes in their environment
  • Hormonal conditions

Signs of Laminitis

You should keep an eye out for changes in the donkey’s behavior. Often, the first sign is lameness, which usually means a donkey is experiencing pain in its limbs. If you notice a donkey shifting its weight, this could also point to discomfort or pain in the limbs.

Donkeys with laminitis tend to lay down more often, and they may not feed as well as usual. You may notice them walk with a changed or unusual gait—such as taking shorter steps.

Check your donkeys’ hooves. If they have heated hooves that don’t appear to be going down in temperature, this could be a sign of laminitis. Another thing to check is your donkey’s digital pulse. A strong, or “bounding” pulse can indicate laminitis.

If you notice your donkey displaying any signs of laminitis, or lameness in general, you should call a veterinarian as soon as possible for quick treatment.

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

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Can You Give Donkeys Cut Grass?

You should never give donkeys cut grass for several reasons. Doing so can increase the chances of your donkey getting sick.

When grass is cut, it begins to ferment, and in doing so produces a lot of sugar. Putting a pile of cut grass in front of a donkey is like presenting a two-year-old with a pile of candy—they won’t be able to resist, and they’ll eat large amounts.

Cut grass is easier to eat up for donkeys than grass from the ground, which means they’ll end up eating more than they usually would, and faster. This can cause digestive issues, such as colic. In short, cut grass can lead to obesity and laminitis in donkeys.

Finally, when presented with a pile of cut grass, donkeys won’t take time to differentiate between what’s good and what isn’t. If there are harmful plants mixed in that a donkey would usually avoid, or if there’s mold growing inside the cut grass, the chances are that a donkey will eat it anyway.

irish donkey grazing in the grassfield
Image Credit: Amanda Nicole Moore, Shutterstock

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What is the Best Thing to Feed Donkeys?

The best diet for donkeys is high in fiber and low in carbohydrates, protein, sugar, and calories. The main part of a donkey’s diet should be straw. Barley straw is the best, while oat straw is also good.

In the summer, a donkey’s straw diet should be supplemented by around 25% of grass grazing. In winter and colder months, around 50% of a donkey’s diet should be hay or haylage, and 50% should be good-quality straw.

Occasionally, you may feed donkeys treats like carrots, apples, and pears, but be careful not to overfeed them. Donkeys are prone to obesity, which can cause several types of painful health issues.

donkey eating carrots
Image Credit: William Hager, Shutterstock

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For most of the year, grass makes up 25% of a donkey’s diet. However, access to grazing on grass must be restricted, because too much grass can lead to obesity and laminitis. You should never feed a donkey cut grass. In the winter months, their straw diet can be supplemented with hay or haylage instead of grass.

Featured Image Credit: Ekaterina, Pixabay