People’s relationships with donkeys are almost as old as civilization. These sure-footed, sturdy animals have been used by humans for centuries, first as beasts of burden and later as working animals in mines, farms, and other settings.

In recent years, they’ve been popular as pack animals in various outdoor recreation activities, such as hiking, camping, and even petting zoos.

Aside from being incredibly versatile and full of personality, donkeys are also relatively long-lived animals with a lifespan of 25 to 30 years. In this article, we’ll explore how long donkeys live, both in captivity and in the wild, as well as some factors that can impact their lifespan.

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What’s the Average Lifespan of Donkeys?

On average, donkeys can live for around 25 to 30 years. It’s also not uncommon for donkeys to live until they’re 40 years old. In fact, the donkeys have been known to live as long as 50 to 60 years old!

Still, that’s the exception, not the rule. A donkey’s lifespan depends on various factors, such as its diet, environment, genetics, and more.

group of donkey grazing
Image Credit: Ekaterina, Pixabay

donkey-divider Why Do Some Donkeys Live Longer Than Others?

There are currently about 50 million donkeys in the world, spread across all seven continents. Because of that, they’re exposed to a wide range of conditions, which can affect how long they live.

In general, a donkey’s life span may be determined by the following factors:

1. Domestication

Typically, donkeys in the wild live much shorter lives than those in captivity. In the wild, they’re exposed to a variety of dangers, such as predators, diseases, and harsh weather. They also don’t have regular sources of quality food and water. Lastly, in case of illness or death, wild donkeys have no access to life-saving health interventions.

On the other hand, domesticated donkeys have greater access to food, shelter, and vets. All of these things help extend their lifespan.

2. Geographical Location

The country in which a donkey lives may also impact its lifespan. For instance, donkeys in Ethiopia only live for 9 years on average. Many donkeys in the UK live from 30 to 40 years. Owners of donkeys in underdeveloped or struggling countries might not have the resources to take care of their animals.

Donkeys may also face other threats that can shorten their lifespan. Some may fall victim to the local donkey skin trade, while others may be forced into jobs like ferrying tourists while simultaneously being neglected.

3. Healthcare

Donkeys are susceptible to a variety of diseases, such as:

  • Equine infectious anemia (EIA)
  • West Nile fever (WNF)
  • Equine viral arteritis (EVA)
  • Equine herpesvirus (EHV)
  • Equine influenza (EI)

Lack of timely treatment can eventually be fatal to donkeys.

vet checking donkey
Image Credit: 135pixels, Shutterstock

4. Enclosure Space

Donkeys need a lot of space to run and roam around. Forcing them in a small enclosure can lead to all sorts of health issues like joint pain, as well as stress, all of which can negatively impact their lifespan.

5. Companionship

This may come as a surprise, but donkeys are highly social animals! That’s why some breeders recommend purchasing donkeys in pairs or keeping them with horses and other animals. A lone donkey can suffer from depression and stress, which may lead to a lack of appetite and make them more susceptible to disease and other health issues as a result.

donkey-divider The 5 Life Stages of a Donkey

Newborn Foal

The average gestation period of donkeys is 11 months. Foals are born fully developed and can stand and walk within minutes of being born.

Weaning Phase

The weaning process, when a foal is transitioned from its mother’s milk to solid food, begins around 4–6 months of age and is typically completed after a year.

baby donkey
Image Credit: Piqsels

Young Adulthood

Donkeys are usually considered sexually mature after two years, during which they will be able to mate and produce offspring.

Mature Adult

A typical donkey reaches full physical maturity around the age of five.

Old Age

Since donkeys have an average lifespan of 25 to 30 years, they start to approach old age around the 20-year mark. Senior donkeys may experience age-related health issues such as vision and hearing loss, arthritis, and metabolic disorders.

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

How to Tell Your Donkey’s Age

The best way to tell a donkey’s age is by looking at its teeth. Donkeys have two sets of teeth in their lifetime, their baby teeth and permanent teeth, just like humans.

The first set of baby teeth, which are their central incisors, start coming in when they’re about a week old. The lateral incisors erupt at around 2–4 weeks, while the corner incisors come in when a foal hits 7 to 9 months of age.

On the other hand, the permanent versions of those teeth start coming in at approximately 2.5 years of age, with permanent corner incisors coming as late as 4.5 years or more.

For a more accurate estimate, a veterinarian can take an X-ray of the teeth to check for any wear and tear. However, this method is only sometimes foolproof, so it’s always best to bring an equine expert along when determining a donkey’s age.



Donkeys are amazing creatures! They’re hardworking, friendly, smart, and incredibly intelligent. They also don’t need much to live the long lives they deserve. Proper nutrition, healthcare, companionship, and enough space to frolic and run can significantly extend a donkey’s lifespan. Of course, this also means that getting a donkey is a serious commitment, but with everything they bring to the table, they’re certainly worth it!

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Featured Image Credit: Dendoktoor, Pixabay