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    What Do Donkeys Eat?

    Authored by Jodi Helmer

    Donkeys have an ancient and storied past. First domesticated in North Africa and Egypt, donkeys were valued for their strength, intelligence and work ethic and used as draft animals that could traverse thousands of miles of rugged terrain to transport goods along the Silk Road between China and Europe. 

    Donkeys are still used as working animals, pulling carts, serving as guardian animals, and doing light draft work in the fields—and that work ethic requires the right nutrition. Even if donkeys are kept as pets, a proper diet is key to their health and wellbeing.

    What foods to feed donkeys

    Grasses: Donkeys are grazing animals. In the wild, their diets consist of grasses, shrubs and other plants that are high in fiber and low in sugar; domestic donkeys need a similar nutrient content in their diets.

    It might seem like turning your donkeys out on lush pasture to graze will provide all the fresh forage they need but there are issues with unrestricted grazing: The grasses in improved pastured are often too high in sugar so it’s a good idea to limit grazing to times when sugar content is lower (like after grasses have gone to seed). 

    Unrestricted grazing can also lead to overeating and obesity, putting donkeys at increased the risk of health issues like laminitis, painful inflammation in the hooves that can cause lameness, and hyperlipemia, a disease that increases the risk of heart attack and stroke due to too much fat in the blood. Consider limited pasture access coupled with a diet of straw and hay.

    Barley straw is one of the main feed sources for donkeys. They can also eat oat straw, which has higher nutritional value and is often fed to underweight or aging donkeys; wheat straw is also a choice, but it has a lower nutritional value and should only be fed in a pinch (and is better for younger donkeys with good teeth thanks to its fibrous nature).

    Donkeys can also eat mature grass hay. Hay is higher in calories and protein. Look for seed hay made from grasses like Timothy and rye or meadow hay made from pasture grasses. Never feed donkeys alfalfa, which is too high in protein, and avoid moldy hay or straw.

    Like pasture grasses, portions of straw and hay should be controlled to prevent donkeys from overeating.

    Pellets: Donkeys that are underweight or have bad teeth can eat high fiber pellets. Look for pellets marketed for horses with laminitis, which tend to be high in fiber and low in sugar, and mix them with water to create a mash; this ensures that donkeys don’t eat the pellets too quickly and colic. Steer clear of pellets made from cereal grains like corn, barley and oats, which are not good for donkeys.

    Chaff: Chaff is a mixture of copped hay and straw that often holds added molasses and minerals. These can be used as supplements or fed as a straw/hay replacement. Like pellets, it’s important to choose chaff marketed for horses with laminitis to ensure the chaff is high in fiber and low in sugar.

    Can you give fruits and vegetable to a donkey

    Donkeys love the occasional treat. Chopped apples, carrots, pears and bananas are all healthy options when offered in moderation. Remember to cut them into smaller pieces to prevent choking.

    Not all fresh fruits and vegetables are safe for donkeys. Never feed your donkey potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, onions, garlic, leeks, tomatoes, peppers, potatoes or baked goods like bread, cake or cookies.

    Donkey supplements

    Even the best donkey diet may not supply all the vitamins, minerals and nutrients your donkey needs for best health and that’s where supplements come in. Equine (not cattle) salt lick blocks or mineral blocks should be always available to help prevent deficiencies. 

    You can also get a forage balancer that has vitamins, minerals and amino acids in the right proportions. It’s offered as a feed product; follow the directions to offer the right amount based on your donkey’s weight.

    Supplements are especially important for donkeys that are underweight or ill or have other specific nutrient needs based on their life stage and overall health.

    How much water does a donkey need

    Donkeys may be desert animals but they still require constant access to fresh, clean water. Consider supplying access to several different sources of water in the pasture and enclosures so your donkey never has to travel too far to drink and remember to check water sources in the winter to make sure they aren’t frozen.


    Work with your veterinarian to ensure you’re feeding your donkeys the right diet and supplying all the nutrients they need to live long, happy and healthy lives.