Miniature Donkey Health Problems

Whether your miniature donkey has fallen ill or seems injured, it can be a scary time for you, their owner. You want to get them the best help so they can recover, but without knowing what’s causing the affliction, it’s hard to do that. What kinds of mini donkey health problems should you be on the lookout for?

The following health issues can affect miniature donkeys and other equine animals:

  • Parasites
  • Dental disease
  • Respiratory disease
  • Laminitis
  • Hyperlipaemia
  • Colic
  • Piroplasmosis
  • Contagious equine metritis
  • Vesicular stomatitis
  • Strangles
  • Rotavirus A
  • Botulism
  • Equine influenza

Curious to learn more about these conditions, diseases, and illnesses? In this extensive guide, we’ll cover the above afflictions in more detail, including symptoms, causes, and treatments. Keep this guide handy as you care for your mini donkey now and in the future. Hopefully, you won’t need it, but if you do, you’ll know just where to go for more info.

Mini Donkey Health Issues to Look out For


Up to 10 different parasite species affect mini donkeys and full-sized donkeys that do not infect horses. There are also those that target donkeys and horses alike, such as the lungworm. The Dictyocaulus arnfieldi or equine lungworm is often ingested by mini donkeys and other equine animals.

From there, the larvae travel until they reach the donkey’s intestinal wall. They then move naturally to the lungs, hence their name, the lungworm. The larvae remain in the lungs, growing into four-inch adults within two to four months. Then, they’ll lay eggs of their own to continue the process of reproduction.

These eggs latch onto the mini donkey’s mucus, ending up in the throat. The donkey will swallow the eggs, again unknowingly, and release them in their feces. The eggs hatch, larvae appear out in the open, and mini donkeys or horses continue eating them.


Grazing outdoors in the grass where the parasite lives is the main way to develop lungworms.


An infected donkey may be asymptomatic, but that doesn’t mean the lungworms don’t do anything behind the scenes. They can destroy the lungs with time if the worms aren’t extracted. Research on donkeys has posited that more than half of donkeys, up to 70 percent, have lungworms. That’s quite a lot of infected donkeys out there!


If your mini donkey is infected with lungworms, a lengthy treatment regimen with ivermectin is recommended. This dewormer medication should free your mini donkey of all lungworms. Your equine vet may recommend a six-month treatment or one that’s eight months.

Dental Disease

Few conditions occur in mini donkeys more frequently than a dental disease. A healthy donkey should consume a diet with plant materials, hay, and grasses. These foods are quite rough though and wear down the mini donkey’s teeth. For that reason, their teeth continually grow. When a donkey has dental disease, their teeth erupt, causing intense pain.


Failing to care for a mini donkey’s oral health is the primary cause of dental disease.


Like with a parasite infection, some donkeys with dental disease are asymptomatic. Others begin losing weight, even appearing malnourished. You may notice your mini donkey can’t really grind or chew their food anymore. They may be more aggressive than usual since they’re in pain. Also, the donkey won’t keep food in their mouths and they will have noticeably bad breath.


Bring your mini donkey to an equine vet immediately if you suspect the dental disease. They can suggest treatment. In the future, make sure your donkey gets an oral health check every year.

Respiratory Disease

Like we people can get respiratory infections, the same can happen to your mini donkey. In equine creatures like donkeys and horses, bacteria strains like Streptococcus Equi are responsible. This bacteria causes a more serious strain of the respiratory disease that requires immediate medical treatment from an equine vet.


Having lungworms can trigger cases of respiratory disease in some mini donkeys and other equine animals. Allergies and viral bacterial infections are other causes to be aware of.


A mini donkey with respiratory disease can develop a fever, so check if they feel warmer than usual. The average mini donkey temperature is 98.78 degrees Fahrenheit, so any hotter than that indicates a fever. Also, the donkey may experience nasal discharge and coughing.


The same treatment for lungworms applies to respiratory disease.


Another disease that many mini donkey owners contend with at some point or another is laminitis. This foot condition can cause intense pain to the donkey.

To understand why it happens, let’s talk a bit about donkey foot anatomy. Donkeys have a part of the hoof known as the quick. This is tissue near their foot bone, also known as the pedal. The quick attach to the hoof wall, again by tissue. The laminae caused by the way the tissue folds are woven across for a bigger surface area.

Thanks to the way their feet are, the mini donkey can hold their body weight and withstand the pressure put on their legs as they support themselves. When tissue shifts within the feet, the pedal bone lacks support and the mini donkey finds it much harder to stand without pain.


There are several causes of laminitis in equine creatures. Changes to the mini donkey’s hormones, including disturbances and imbalances, could trigger this foot condition. So too could eating excessive sugar, such as from sugary feed or even cereal. Overfeeding the donkey grass is another cause, as the animal gains weight that makes standing painful.

If your mini donkey tends to favor one leg over another, the leg that supports the weight could develop laminitis.


The way your mini donkey stands will subtly shift with a case of laminitis. The donkey may also sit or lie down whenever they can so they’re off their feet. Depression or dullness could result as well.

If the condition goes unchecked, laminitis could cause a mini donkey to lose shoulder area muscle. The animal may also have laminitic rings, visible only on the donkey’s hoof wall.


Don’t delay if your mini donkey has laminitis. They need to see an equine vet right away. Pain killers can dull most of the pain attributed to laminitis and supports will make standing easier.


Mini donkeys could die from hyperlipaemia. With this condition, your donkey’s fat reserves become mobilized. The reserves move to the liver, becoming glucose the donkey can use for energy. This creates a negative energy balance. It keeps going, as the donkey can’t reverse hyperlipaemia themselves. This causes a spike in blood fat levels.

If undiagnosed, hyperlipaemia can cause the breakdown of kidneys and eventually, their failure. This again could be fatal.


Miniature donkeys that have recently had surgery are at a higher risk of developing hyperlipaemia, especially if they go long periods without eating. If the donkey has a disease that causes a negative energy balance, they could also get this condition.

Here are other hyperlipaemia causes:

  • Stress
  • Having laminitis, as insulin resistance may change
  • Having Cushing’s disease, as fat mobilization increases thanks to the cortisol changes
  • Lactating early or having a late pregnancy, as both require more energy
  • Being an older jack (male donkey)
  • Being overweight or obese


It can be hard to pick up on hyperlipaemia symptoms, at least at first. Your mini donkey may stop eating as much, and they could be dull. If you notice those two symptoms in conjunction with one another, then schedule an appointment with your donkey’s equine vet.


All sorts of treatments exist for hyperlipaemia, and your equine vet will prescribe one based on the cause of the condition. These include fluid therapy, antibiotics, multi-vitamins, or painkillers. A mini donkey’s prognosis with hyperlipaemia can be iffy, including when treatment begins.


Donkeys, horses, and mini donkeys can fall victim to colic, a common but dangerous condition. Depending on whether a horse or donkey has colic, the symptoms may be somewhat different. Colic also has several types, although almost all increase a donkey’s respiratory and heart rates. Per 60 seconds, a donkey’s respiratory rate should be 16 to 20 breaths. Their heart rate should be roughly 44 beats, also in a minute.


Colic can occur from pancreatitis three percent of the time and neoplasia four percent of the time. If a mini donkey has a history of fractures, ovarian disease, stomach ulcers, peritonitis, or colitis, the condition can also occur. Impactions, including those in the small colon as well as pelvic flextures, are responsible for about 59 percent of colic cases. Another 13 percent are attributed to unexplained causes.


Besides higher respiratory and heart rates, colic can also cause eyelid and gum color changes. These may become brick red. The donkey may sweat more often, they could stop eating, and they will likely become dull. If they paw at or roll on the ground, that’s a sign your donkey needs medical attention immediately.


By allowing feces to exit the donkey’s body, using medication to improve gut motility, rehydrating the donkey, and reducing pain, colic symptoms begin to abate. To that end, IV fluids and oral fluids as well as painkillers may be used. In more serious cases of colic, the mini donkey may require surgery.


Piroplasmosis occurs through ticks and their bite. This disease can make mules, donkeys, and horses ill.


If your mini donkey is outdoors and bitten by a tick, there’s a risk they could get piroplasmosis. Besides that, should you reuse a dirty syringe or needle on your mini donkey and a horse/donkey with piroplasmosis had also been stuck with it, the other animal may now have the disease?


It can take upwards of a week, sometimes three weeks, before the symptoms of piroplasmosis make themselves apparent. When that happens, your mini donkey may no longer eat. They’re also quite weak at this stage.

If you by chance missed your donkey’s case of piroplasmosis before now, the symptoms do become more obvious as they progress. The mini donkey’s urine turns noticeably red. Their stomachs can also swell. The eyes and mouth look yellow, especially inside the mouth. The animal also develops anemia and fever.


If your mini donkey has piroplasmosis, you need to keep them away from all other animals in your farm or stable, 300 feet or further. Remove all ticks through the assistance of an equine vet. If the donkey is completely tick-free, you can reintegrate them to the farm with the other animals.

Contagious Equine Metritis

Contagious equine metritis or CEM is a type of venereal condition. While it’s more common in equine animals in Europe than in other parts of the world, it can occur almost anywhere. The Taylorella equigenitalis bacteria is what leads to this disease.


The only way horses or donkeys can develop CEM is through sexual contact. One donkey passes the infection to a second one.


Look to your jennets or female donkeys if you suspect she and a jack may have CEM. About 10 days after the sexual act, sometimes as long as 14 days, the jennet will have vulvar drainage. This will be pus-like in consistency and look white. Jacks, while infected, are generally asymptomatic.

Should the jennet become pregnant, she may be unable to give birth because of the disease.


First, you’ll have to quarantine all mini donkeys you suspect have CEM. Next, using a disinfectant soap that contains Chlorhexidine (at least two percent), clean the genitalia of each animal. Do this for both the jacks and jennets.

Then, apply sulfadiazine or nitrofurazone, topical antibiotics that can treat the symptoms of CEM.

Vesicular Stomatitis

If you have a farm, vesicular stomatitis can pass fast. Swine, cattle, horses, and donkeys can trade the disease to one another, and you can even end up with it. Sometimes, goats and sheep can have vesicular stomatitis as well, but it depends on the strain of the agent.


Gnats and flies with the vesicular stomatitis virus or VSV agent that bite your livestock are all it takes to begin the chain of infection. If an animal is ill and drools on buckets, stalls, and the like and another animal uses them, they too can get sick. The same is true if they share the same bedding, feed, trailers, or equipment.

Even if a healthy animal gest too close to a sick animal’s saliva and blisters, that’s enough to get them sick.


A horse or mini donkey’s hooves, lips, gums, and tongue can develop telltale blisters. Mouth ulcers may also occur, as can oral swelling.


Use anti-inflammatory medication on the mini donkey and other infected animals to control swelling. This way, your livestock don’t stop eating. Speaking of food, make sure you switch to a soft feed that doesn’t affect the sore mouth.


Also referred to as distemper, strangles is another one of those diseases that can spread fast in mules, donkeys, and horses. The animal’s upper respiratory tract is infected. In that tract is lymphoid tissue, which begins to develop abscesses. While most of the time, a case of strangles isn’t fatal, it can be if your mini donkey is young, ill, older, or otherwise not healthy.


Streptococcus equi equi, a bacterial organism, triggers the onset of strangles for mules, donkeys, and horses alike.


Most donkeys and horses with strangles will have what looks like a runny nose with a yellow discharge. This is a sign the condition has advanced to the point where abscesses in the nose have exploded. Further, the donkey’s throat glands also have draining pus and become swollen.


By vaccinating your horses and mini donkeys when they reach maturity, it’s possible to combat future cases of strangles. As for current cases, you want to quarantine your sick animals. Administer anti-inflammatory medication and let your mini donkey get plenty of rest.

If you have a sick foal, try a nasal spray vaccination. This is recommended for foals four weeks or older.

Rotavirus A

Speaking of foals, only they can develop Rotavirus A, which causes excessive diarrhea. Other symptoms can clue you in that something is wrong with your young mini donkey. If they don’t get medical attention for this condition soon enough, the foal could die.


Coronavirus and rotavirus are the leading causes of this viral condition. Most foals that develop Rotavirus A are two months or younger.


While excessive diarrhea is the trademark symptom of Rotavirus A, your foal will also have anorexia from not eating and possibly also depression. Their feces will have a very strong smell and a watery texture.

Once the foal begins their bout of diarrhea, it can go on for four days and sometimes even last for a week. In more serious cases, the symptoms persist for longer, such as multiple weeks.


By quarantining the ill foal, other animals on your farm won’t be infected. Use phenolic disinfectant foot dips and other cleaning products to scrub down the foal’s stall. Avoid quarternary compounds, chlorhexidine, and bleach, as these will not work as a disinfectant.

Clean all feces from the sick foal, taking care to move this where other farm animals cannot get near it.

Otherwise, it’s just a waiting game for your foal to get better. If your foal is still ill about a week after showing signs of Rotavirus A, call your equine vet.


Although some farmers refer to botulism as food poisoning, it’s more than just that. Botulism can be fatal in many cases for equine animals, as between 80 and 100 percent of horses with it will die. Whether you call it shaker foal syndrome or forage poisoning, it’s incredibly important you get your mini donkey treatment right away. That could be all that will save their lives.


When your mini donkey consumes moldy or rotten silage, hay, or grain, they could develop botulism.


Your mini donkey may have a change in eyelid tone, as this becomes weaker. They will also lose intestinal motility. Their tongue will become weaker, they’ll be unable to swallow, and their muscles could weaken. The condition can lead to paralysis. Death will then occur within two or three days.


Get your mini donkeys and other farm animals vaccinated for botulism. If your mini donkey already has botulism, hightail it to the vet. Your equine vet may not be able to do anything, but it’s worth a try. In the future, only feed your animals clean, unexpired food.

Equine Influenza

Although it’s caused by horse flu, equine influenza can infect mini donkeys and full-sized donkeys, too. It’s easy for this illness to spread, and given that it incubates for upwards of only three days, by the time another donkey or horse is infected, it’s too late to prevent the further spread of this flu.


While once, H3N8 (equine-2) and H7N7 (equine-1) were the virus strains responsible for equine influenza, that’s no longer true. The H7N7 strain may not even exist anymore. It hasn’t infected any donkeys or horses in more than 20 years as of this writing. H7N7 still does cause equine influenza.


Like human flu, horse flu causes familiar symptoms. These include bodily weakness, no appetite, depression, a persistent cough, nasal discharge, and a fever as high as 106 degrees. Advanced cases could lead to pneumonia.

As we said, the incubation period is very brief, sometimes as little as 24 hours. A longer incubation window may be as long as 72 hours. If the horse or donkey only gets a mild strain of the flu, they’ll get better in two or three weeks. In more serious cases, it can take upwards of six months to make a full recovery.


By upping your mini donkey’s care and giving them lots of time to rest, their condition should turn around soon enough. NSAIDs can assist with controlling a fever that exceeds 104 degrees. Should your mini donkey’s illness get worse, call your equine vet. The donkey may have a complication, such as a fever that persists for more than four days or the development of pneumonia. They’d then need an antibiotic.


From infections to diseases and illnesses, these health problems can affect full-sized donkeys and miniature donkeys alike. Other equine animals such as horses are not immune either, so if you have a large farm or stable, knowing of these health problems and how to treat them is for the best. You can now keep all your animals healthy and happy. Best of luck!

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