Donkeys are hardy equids. They usually are blessed with a lush rug of hair that is either dense or curly. Seeing unsightly balding patches of alopecia all over your dearest donkey’s body is not pleasant. It can be downright problematic.
I was worried when my little donkey began to have balding patches along her face. Could this be some dreaded skin disease or other painful inflammatory condition? I had loads of experience working with horses who can suffer mange, mud fever, and other skin conditions, but I never saw this on donkeys before.
Why is my donkey losing hair? Donkeys can develop a range of skin conditions that cause hair loss. These include friction (from ill-fitting tack), parasites, rain rot, fungal infections, allergies, or inflammation.
The living conditions of your donkey, feed, and medical care can make a world of difference to their recovery from these skin-damaging conditions.
Finding the solution is often not a single approach but rather a combination of factors to help their skin heal. Solutions include protecting it and averting damaging skin conditions.
Seven Reasons Donkeys Lose Hair
There are many reasons why donkeys lose hair. Some of these reasons are normal, and you shouldn’t worry too much about them. Other reasons for hair loss are a cause for concern.
1. Seasonal Shedding
In nature, it is normal for mammals to grow a thicker coat of hair before the cold season hits. When spring rolls around, this thick hair needs to be removed, and these animals start shedding those winter tufts. This is common for dogs, horses, and, you guessed it, donkeys.
When shedding happens, the best you can do is use a good quality curry comb and help your equid lose the excess hair. Brushing your horse or donkey will help them shed the loose hair and feel much better when warmer weather hits.
You should help your donkey lose excess hair. This helps them have a healthy coat. Brushing also stimulates circulation, which helps nourish the hair follicles.
When your donkey sheds, loose tufts of hair will fall off, and your donkey will have a healthy summer coat. This should not lead to bald patches. But, if your donkey is shedding and rubbing its body, it may mean a different cause of hair loss at work.
Your donkey should shed their thick winter coat in the spring or early summer. Having thick hair in the summer is bad for their health. And, it is too warm and can lead to a buildup of heat and moisture that can cause fungal growth and bacterial infections.
2. Rubbing and Chaffing
Another cause of donkey baldness occurs when they wear halters that are too small and rub. Ill-fitting tack can also cause hair loss. The halter is tied tightly across the donkey’s nose in the above image. This could potentially cause unsightly areas on the donkey’s face where hair is rubbed off and raw skin.
Rubbing is painful. When the skin becomes raw, it can lead to inflammations, infections, and unhealthy skin growth.
3. Environmental Skin and Hair Loss Influences
Exposure to the environment, or a lack of shelter, can greatly influence your donkey’s skin or hair health, or lack thereof. The three donkeys each have early signs of skin conditions that can and should be treated in the image below.
The white donkey on the left has what appears to be sunburn on the pink skin of the nose. The donkey will have quite a painful road to recovery ahead. If the sunburn isn’t correctly treated, it can easily become a septic sore, creating further bacterial infections that can spread.
The middle donkey is by far the healthiest of the three. However, if you look closely at its nose, you will notice what appears to resemble mold. This is an early-stage skin infection. If this donkey continues to graze in such a lush green and wet pasture, this will likely spread to the rest of the donkey’s body.
When such skin conditions spread, it can lead to hair loss all over the donkey’s body. The donkey’s immune system will be placed under pressure with open sores. Other skin conditions will be rearing to go.
The third donkey has a sensitive nose. The blackened spots on its nose can easily become painful if exposed to excess moisture or sunlight.
Other environmental causes of hair loss among donkeys include acid rain, which can burn their skin, or rain scald, where their skin becomes sensitive to continued damp conditions. Donkeys have thick coats, which is usually a blessing since it keeps them dry.
However, in continuously damp and rainy weather, your donkey may soak right through, and they won’t be able to dry as easily as a horse does since their coat is so thick.
This wet coat creates the perfect breeding conditions for bacteria and fungal infections. You may notice your donkey suffering hair loss after a time of excessive rain. This hair loss can be on their backs, along their legs, and even on their face.
Rain rot is caused by a bacteria known as dermatophilus congolensis that creates an infection site if it penetrates the skin through a small wound or cut. Raw skin exposed to water is a prime infection zone for this bacteria, which requires medical treatment to clear up.
4. Bacterial and Parasitic Cysts
Bacterial and other parasitic infections can lead to severe hair loss with donkeys. A condition known as Besnoitiosis has caused death in many donkeys in the U.S. It involves painful lesions or parasitic cysts forming along the donkey’s face, ears, and body. Even their eyes can develop tiny pin-point cysts that are terribly itchy.
Research has been unable to prove what is responsible for spreading this disease conclusively, and there is also no known cure.
5. Fungal Infections
Donkeys, like other equids, can also suffer from fungal infections like ringworm. Ringworms are caused by Trichophyton and Microsporum fungi. It can lead to massive and painful hair loss.
During the infection, the fungus feasts on the donkey’s skin, specifically on their keratin content, weakening their skin and leading to loss of the epidermis.
With a ringworm infestation, large clumps of hair are missing in a circular pattern. Once the skin is exposed, you will notice angry red rings where the fungal infection is present. Ringworm is itchy, and donkeys suffering from it may scratch intermittently.
Ringworm infection is usually spread from one affected donkey to the next. Your dearest donkey can contract it from herd members or other animals. Dogs and cats can also carry ringworm spores. If you notice your pet dog has ringworm signs (usually on their nose), you should keep them away from other animals, including your donkey.
6. Donkey Fighting
This may seem an unlikely cause of hair loss in donkeys, but jack donkeys can be very territorial and quite aggressive. They have a strong bite and enjoy kicking when fighting. This can lead to severe injuries where hair is pulled out. The exposed skin can become infected by saliva-born bacteria, leading to further hair loss.
If your donkeys are prone to fighting, inspect them daily to ensure there aren’t hairless spots requiring treatment. Even donkey foals can be prone to bullying behavior. While they may be fluffy, they can easily hurt each other and rip off skin and hair, which will require treatment.
7. Insect Damage
Believe it or not, donkeys are as susceptible to insect strike as horses and other farm animals. When insects bite donkeys, it can lead to itchiness and rubbing, which results in hair loss. Donkeys are slightly more protected because of their thick hair. Still, some insects are tenacious and will crawl into the donkey’s thick pelt, finding a soft spot to gorge on a blood meal.
The usual insect culprits are ticks, mites, and lice. Ticks will lead to excessive rubbing, and since they create small wounds, this can lead to bacterial infections and inflammation. Combine that with rubbing since a tick bite stings, and the poor donkey will be bald in no time.
Mites can also infest a donkey’s fur, leading to smaller bites, itching, and inflammation of the hair shaft of the donkey’s hair follicles. It can be complicated to treat a donkey with hair mites in colder weather, as the treatment often involves shaving the affected hair off.
Be watchful of mange spots on your donkey’s face and legs. This is where mites like to hang out. Donkeys with severe infections can rub themselves raw in no time at all. Some donkeys rip whole chunks of their fur off their legs in an attempt to alleviate their itching.
Lice are another blood-sucking parasite that loves to hide out in your donkey’s fur. Like with ticks, lice can lead to itching, which leads to rubbing, creating bald patches and secondary infections.
Solutions to and Prevention of Donkey Alopecia
Prevention is the best solution. A problem averted is a disaster avoided. I suggest the following steps to ensure hair loss on your donkey doesn’t happen for any reason other than normal shedding:
Regular Brushing and Grooming
Regular brushing is even more critical if your donkey is a solitary member of your farmyard. That’s because they don’t have a donkey buddy that can help them get rid of winter fluff with mutual grooming. That’s where you come in.
Grooming and regular brushing can help loosen old hair that needs to be shed. It can also help detangle matted clumps, becoming a nest for insects like mites and lice.
Be sure to use a set of brushes unique to each donkey in your herd. Never share brushes, as this can spread fungal spores, leading to ringworm and other bacteria spreading from one “donk” to the next. Disinfect your brushes weekly to help remove any spores or insect eggs that may have become lodged in the bristles.
I’ve had many people ask me how often they should groom their donkey. They are always shocked to hear that I groom daily. That’s right, DAILY! I may even do a morning and afternoon grooming session in shedding season. It’s a great time for me to bond with my donkey, and she certainly enjoys the attention and care.
Mutual grooming is a great natural way in which donkeys remove excess hair from their buddies and get a grooming session in for themselves. As your donkey’s person, you should take over-grooming duties if they are isolated from friends. A grooming session also doubles to assess and monitor any hair loss.
Use your grooming session to check for scratches, lumps, and raw spots that could become infection sites for bacteria or lead to further skin inflammation. Treat these immediately.
With any treatment, be sure to avoid the eyes, nostrils, and soft skin immediately around the mouth.
Treat Affected Areas Immediately
No matter how small the affected area where hair loss occurs is, you should treat it as if it’s serious. Chances are that it soon will be serious if left unattended. Follow an effective treatment plan to manage any hair loss immediately.
Hair Loss Action Plan for Treatment
Working with a plan will ensure you cover all bases and make the right choices regarding hair loss in your donkey.
Step One: Visual Inspection of the Hair Loss Area
When you notice hair loss or bald patches on your donkey, be sure to inspect the area closely. Use a comb to part the hair around the bald patch. Assess whether the hairless patch is inflamed, looks irritated by insects, or has been rubbed and shows abrasions. If you notice small bite marks, search the surrounding hair for signs of insects.
Check for other signs that may point to the cause of the hair loss. It is probably a ringworm infestation if you see a raised red ring. If there are raised spots with raw edges, it’s probably pinworms.
When you see rubbing and chaffed skin, it indicates an allergy or allergy-causing insect affecting your donkey’s skin. Bacterial infections can rise as a result of allergy-causing insects. That’s because as it can lead to weeping sores and rubbing.
Step Two: Disinfect the Area
Following the first step and identifying what could be causing the hair loss with your donkey, you need to disinfect the affected area. To reach the area with disinfectant liquid, it may be necessary to trim the hair from the area around the baldness properly.
Using a pet trimmer is a good idea as you can cut the hair at an appropriate length with minimal disruption of the bald spot. If you don’t have a clipper, you can also use a pair of barber scissors. Take care not to cut your donkey accidentally.
To disinfect your donkey’s bald patches, apply a solution of surgical spirits or a mixture of povidone-iodine and water to the affected patch. You can also rub tea tree oil on the area. When I suspect that the hair loss may be due to fungal or bacterial infections, I also rinse with a quality mouthwash that contains thymol as an ingredient.
Step Three: Apply a Treatment Cream to the Site
Next, I let the area dry once it has been disinfected. After drying, I apply a thick treatment cream such as Classic’s Lime Sulfur Pet Skin Cream (Amazon) or COAT DEFENSE Trouble Spot Drying Paste for Horses (Amazon).
The trick with treatment creams is that it doesn’t work overnight, and you need to keep applying the cream even when the area seems to have healed. I make sure to mark the date of the first treatment on my calendar. I also like to take photos to document and help me track the healing process.
Once the area seems to have healed, I continue applying the treatment cream for at least another 3-5 days to ensure there is no relapse.
Step Four: Medical Treatment Protocol for Hair Loss
As part of the treatment, you may need to consult with your vet regarding the best approach to hair loss on your donkey. If the cause of the hair loss is a serious infection or parasitic infestation, it may be necessary to help the donkey heal from the inside out.
Your vet may prescribe a dose of a cortisone-type drug. Remember to check dosage with your vet and not assume you can work on the same calculations as you would for a horse. That’s because donkeys react to medication differently than horses do.
If the infection of the area is bacterial-based, your vet may also prescribe a course of oral antibiotics or a long-acting antibiotic injection that is administered intramuscularly.
Step Five: Dip to Remove Insect Infestations That Cause Hair Loss
Always check if there are insects at work on the wound site. If I see that my donkey has an insect burden with ticks, lice, and mites in their fur, I always take appropriate action by dipping weekly with a high-quality donkey-safe insect-repellent dipping solution (on Amazon). This helps remove the cause of baldness so healing can take place.
You could also opt for a natural insect repellent dust like DEsect Diatomaceous Earth Insecticide for Fleas/Ticks on Pets & Home (on Amazon), which safely deals with insects while leaving your donkey unharmed.
Step Six: Coat Management to Promote Healing
Once my donkey’s skin has started healing, I make sure to brush them thoroughly. I wash them with an antibacterial and antimicrobial shampoo by Vetericyn (on Amazon) that removes any lingering bacterial or fungal traces and then thoroughly dry.
If my donkey has a thick coat that tends to soak up moisture, I may opt for clipping the excess areas where their coat is longest. I pay attention to the areas where rain rot may occur.
However, I take care to watch the weather. If it turns cold, I have a rug handy to blanket my donkey with, and I also keep her in the barn on cold nights as she will be without her fluffy protection against the elements.
Other Ways to Speed up Healing
You can do several other things to help your donkey recover from hair loss. Once the cause has been treated and eliminated, it may take some time to heal the affected area, and the hair loss may persist in that particular spot. The skin has been damaged, and scar tissue may have formed.
You will have to help nourish this area by applying a nourishing cream and sun protection if you live in a warm southern state. I like to mix a zinc oxide ointment (Amazon) with a vitamin E enriched cream such as udder balm (Amazon).
Feeding your donkey a balanced diet that includes essential vitamins and minerals will also help their skin recover quicker. I like to give my Jenny some organic coconut oil to boost, but organic flaxseed oil is also a great option.
Resources Mentioned in this Post
I use the following supplies for my donkeys and rely on these supplies to keep my equines healthy.
Tea Tree Oil (A natural way to fight illness and enable healing) found on Amazon.
Vitamin E Oil to help in skin healing found on Amazon
Classic’s Lime Sulfur Pet Skin Cream on Amazon
Coat Defense Trouble Spot Drying Paste for Horses on Amazon
Insect Repellent Dipping Solution found on Amazon. Fights insects so the skin can heal.
Natural Insect Repellent: Diatomaceous Earth Insecticide for Pets found on Amazon.
Caring for your donkey involves carefully monitoring their skin, hair loss, the impact of the elements, and daily grooming. Donkeys often miss appropriate care since they are believed to be belligerent creatures. But I found my donkey to be a real hug-bear, and she loves being brushed and having her flakey spots of skin treated.
If you act quickly and treat alopecia in donkeys, the affected area will stay small and heal quickly. When you don’t remain vigilant, you may one day realize a major problem and struggle with a long-term healing program that will potentially see the hair loss becoming permanent.