What Foods Can Donkeys Eat? Healthy Treats for Your Donkey

Woman petting donkey

 

When I first got a pair of donkeys for my homestead, I didn’t quite know how to feed them. At first, I turned them out with my horses, but this didn’t work out ideally. That’s because these equids soon began competing for the choicest sections of the pasture. 

I was also unsure of what food was safe for my donkeys as a treat. Could I feed them kitchen scraps or should I buy them special treats? I began to read up and asked some of the ranchers in my area for advice. 

What foods can donkeys eat? Donkeys are grazers, and their diet should consist of mostly high fiber food sources such as hay and grass. Certain fruits and vegetables are also safe to feed your donkey, though this should be done in moderation. Too much sugar can lead to flounder or laminitis. You can safely feed small quantities of apples, carrots, bananas, pears, and even turnips to your donkey.

A Donkey Diet: What Can Donkeys Eat

Donkeys will try to eat just about anything they can find, even some non-edibles like clothes and hats. I learned quickly that my pet donkeys would nibble at anything they could find. So I quickly learned about what I could and should feed my donkeys and what I shouldn’t feed them. 

What Do Donkeys Eat in Nature?

Donkeys are ruminant grazers. This means they are designed to eat grass, leaves, and other natural fodder that may be in their grazing area. Like horses, donkeys rely on hindgut fermentation to digest their food. For their gut to work, donkeys need a lot of roughage. 

When donkeys eat too much sugar or starch, they can become ill as their digestion will not work like it should. Plus, the delicate balance between good and bad bacteria in their digestive tract will become unbalanced. 

While you may think that feeding your donkey handfuls of strawberries is cute because they do a flehmen response with their lips, the sugar rich strawberries could make them ill.   

One or two berries won’t be the end of the world, but it can become a disaster if you feed your donkey buckets of sugary veggies and fruits. What’s more, your donkey shouldn’t be fed any food that is spoiling or fermenting as this can prove toxic to them. 

Natural donkey foods have high fiber (1)

 

What Won’t Donkeys Eat and Why?

Most donkeys have enough sense not to eat food that will make them sick, unless you have taught them to eat it or they have no other food options. But even food that is normal for a donkey to eat can become dangerous to them if you allow them to gorge on any one thing or overfeed. 

What Do Donkeys Eat Differently From Horses?

While horses require more energy-rich grasses that have a higher protein content, donkeys do better on a low-calorie and low-protein diet. Straw or barley chaff is suitable for donkeys as it has less than 8% in sugar content. 

Donkeys should not eat grasses or hay that’s high in protein or sugar as this can lead to digestive issues and equine obesity. Horses can eat more nutrient-dense grasses due to their larger size and level of activity. 

If your donkey is a pet, you would really want to keep their diet lean. Working donkeys that go on trail rides and are physically active may require more protein. Grasses such as haylage and legumes like lucerne may be suitable if fed in moderation. 

Donkeys do well on lower calorie grasses than horses (1)

The Value of Treats for Donkeys

There are several reasons why you would want to consider feeding a wide variety of treats to your donkeys. For starters, donkeys benefit from the nutritional value of the fruits and vegetables they are fed as treats. 

Feeding treats will introduce more vitamins and minerals to your donkey’s diet. If your donkey has gone off their feed, you can also use grated apples, carrots, celery, squash, and green vegetables to help peak their interest. For older donkeys, treats can help them maintain weight in a healthy manner. 

Consider these treats and the nutritional value they offer your donkey:

Vitamin-Rich Fruits

Fruits like apples, bananas, berries, and pineapples contain large volumes of vitamin C, which boost your donkey’s immune system and help them to recover from illness. Additionally, fruit that have their rind or peel on offer additional roughage and fiber, which is great for donkey guts and the hindgut fermentation process. 

One of the most common problems that older horses and donkeys have is their low intake of water. This creates excess gassiness in their gut, leading to colic. While you can take a horse to water but can’t make them drink, you sure can entice them to eat some watery fruits. Fruit like watermelon is 92% water, which will definitely help your aged donkey’s digestive tract stay lubricated. 

Fiber-Rich Vegetables

Vegetables tend to have a large natural fiber content, especially if you can feed these with their peels attached. You will also find many minerals and trace elements that are essential for a healthy donkey’s digestion in sources such as carrots, pumpkin, turnips, squash, and celery. 

Essential minerals like potassium, manganese, magnesium, and iron can be found in many vegetable sources. This provides a natural way to supplement your donkey. 

How to Feed Donkey Treats

What you feed is often not as much the problem as how you feed your donkey. While my donkeys enjoy sneaking into the kitchen and helping themselves to a slice of bread from the bread bin, this is less harmful than giving them a huge bucket of carrots. 

Your donkey has a pretty robust digestion, and you don’t need to worry about the occasional potato chips stolen from your packet or a hamburger devoured behind your back once a year. What is dangerous to donkeys is when you habitually feed them excessive treats. 

An obese donkey will suffer massive strain to their backs, joints, and hooves. As a result, an obese donkey will develop premature arthritis, digestive disorders, and other health challenges such as equine diabetes. 

As a fast rule, you should never feed more than 10% of your donkey’s diet as treats. This means that if your donkey eats a cup of feed a day and 10 pounds of roughage (hay, straw, and grazing), their treat should be a 10th of that in volume. 

Feeding your donkey treats on a regular basis will potentially also cause behavior issues such as biting and bullying as they compete for a yummy treat that they expect. Rather feed treats occasionally and at your discretion, not because your donkey has demanded it. 

Donkeys should only have certain treats (1)

Donkey Treats: What Is Suitable to Feed as a Treat to Your Donkey

There are any number of treats that may be suitable for your donkey to enjoy in moderation. This means you would only feed one of these treats every other day and only in a small amount. Treats should not be meal substitutions, and they aren’t suitable for large quantity consumption. 

List of Natural Treats for Donkeys

While this list is not exhaustive, it is a fair indication of what you can feed your donkey and how much constitutes a single treat. 

Vegetables 

  • Carrots (one medium carrot every other day)
  • Turnips (two small turnips, sliced and fed every other day)
  • Gem squash (a half a squash once a week, seeds removed)
  • Pumpkin (a quarter of a pumpkin once a week, seeds removed)
  • Swedes or rutabagas (a half a Swedish turnip, sliced, once a week)
  • Celery (two celery stalks with leaves, every second day)
  • Beetroot (one medium beetroot, once a week)
  • Corn cob (baby corn fed as an occasional treat, no more than once a week)

Fruits

  • Apples (one small apple every other day)
  • Bananas (unpeeled, one small banana once a week)
  • Pears (one small pear, core removed, once a week)
  • Watermelon (one quarter small melon, once a week)
  • Oranges (one small orange, peeled, once a week)
  • Grapefruit (half a grapefruit, peeled, once a week)
  • Strawberries (wild or store bought, a handful, once a week)
  • Pineapples (one slice, skin removed, once a week)
  • Blackberries or blueberries (a handful, once a week)
  • Lettuce (one leaf, every other day)
  • Cucumber (a few slices, every other day)

Alternative Treats

  • Oats (one small handful of oats, raw, once a week)
  • Weetabix (one grain biscuit per day or every other day)

Avoid feeding rich foods to your donkeys (1)

What to Avoid Feeding as Treats to Your Donkey

There are several vegetables and fruits that are not suitable for donkeys or other equids to eat. These make poor treats as they can lead to bloat and colic. 

It is advised not to feed any member of the Brassicaceae or cruciferous families such as broccoli, cabbage, onions, or cauliflower to your donkey. You should also avoid feeding potatoes, especially when the skin is green as it contains tannins that are toxic to equids. 

Certain animal feeds such as cow feeds, goat’s feed, and sheep’s feed aren’t suitable for donkey or horse consumption either. Any animal feed that contains urea is toxic to equids, and you should avoid feeding these. 

Should you want to feed your donkey additional feed, opt for a registered donkey feed, or  try a low-protein horse feed as this will be low in fats too, making for a lean diet that is safe for donkeys. 

The Side Effects of Excessive Donkey Treat Feeding

Parents are cautioned not to give their kids too many sweets as this causes obesity and tooth decay. The same applies to donkeys. Excessive sugary treats such as high-sugar fruit can lead to bacterial development in the mouth and tooth decay. 

Feeding your donkey starchy treats like grains, bread, and biscuits can lead to a severe intestinal blockage as the donkey possesses fewer enzymes that are required for the digestion of starch. 

Since donkeys have no gallbladder, they struggle with digesting fatty foods, which is why feeding oils is not a good idea. Excessive soya fat and sunflower oil is not suitable for donkeys. The fatty content will not be processed by the gallbladder, which means the donkey’s liver function can become compromised. 

Conclusion

When feeding and treating your donkeys, it is important to make sure you don’t feed them anything that is harmful to their digestion. Avoid things that can compromise their health in the long run. 

Your donkey will appreciate treats more if they are given less frequently and if you feed donkey appropriate fruits and vegetables. Never turn your donkey into a garbage bin. You should never dump your kitchen scraps on them, and you should always feed only fresh food to avoid digestive issues.

Talitha van Niekerk

Hi, I’m Talitha van Niekerk, and I made the leap to farm animal ownership when I decided to fulfil my lifelong passion to own horses. Now, over a decade later, I run a public stable facility on 180 acres of land, caring for over 75 horses of all breeds and sizes. I love to write about my experiences, sharing the knowledge I have gained and helping others achieve their life’s passion to live on the land.

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