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The Daily Vet by petMD

The Daily Vet is a blog featuring veterinarians from all walks of life. Every week they will tackle entertaining, interesting, and sometimes difficult topics in the world of animal medicine – all in the hopes that their unique insights and personal experiences will help you to understand your pets.

A Discourse on Donkeys

Donkeys are special creatures. Whether you love them or hate them (I know people of both persuasions), there is no denying that there’s just something about a donkey. I can’t put my finger on it, but I’m pretty sure it has to do with the fact that their ears are like the eighth wonder of the world — and I know donkeys are smarter than humans. They just don’t have opposable thumbs.

I haven’t had too many donkeys as patients, but I’ve had enough to learn a few things about them. The clients who have donkeys love them to bits and there’s a bit of a donkey counter-culture within the horse world that’s very interesting. You see, not all horse people like donkeys. In fact, some horse people look down their noses at donkeys, and even mules. It’s a snob thing, I suspect. But donkey lovers are some of the most down to earth, practical people you will ever meet.

There are big donkeys and mini donkeys, and then there are spectacular spotted donkeys, my personal favorite. I’ve had well-behaved donkeys and ornery donkeys, but I’ve also had my share of ornery horses, goats, llamas and cows, so I can’t say that in my small realm there has been evidence to prove that donkeys are any more ornery than any other farm species. In fact, I’m willing to declare that cats are in general more ornery than donkeys.

Some donkey facts: A male donkey is called a jack and a female donkey is called a jenny or jennet. Technically speaking, donkeys are the species Equus asinus while horses are the species Equus ferus. Donkeys and horses can successfully mate and produce offspring, but like most other interspecies matings, these offspring (mules) are usually sterile.

Many folks are familiar with the usual image of donkeys used as pack animals and beasts of burden. However, in developed countries of today, donkeys have gained more comfortable employment opportunities. For one, donkeys make great guard animals. Some sheep farmers have donkeys in the fields with the flock because donkeys will run off predators such as foxes and stray dogs. Alpaca owners also will sometimes employ a donkey or two as opposed to a guard dog.

Another donkey employment opportunity is donkey basketball. I’m serious. Please do yourself a favor and look this up on the Internet. Apparently, since I’ve never witnessed such an event in person, donkeys take to the basketball court and people ride them while playing the sport, so I guess it sounds exactly like the name makes it sound. This discovery has led me to ask many questions, such as:

  • How does one dribble the ball?
  • Is there a height restriction on the donkey?
  • If one donkey bites another donkey, is that considered a foul?

During my next donkey appointment, I may inquire into this new sport. Maybe I should start scouting and form a team. So, what’s a decent team name for donkey basketball?

Dr. Anna O’Brien

Image: Stephen Mcsweeny / via Shutterstock

Comments  11

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  • Donkeys!
    06/08/2012 11:12am

    What a fun and informative post and a great way to start a Friday!

    I guess if you can play polo on a horse, there's no reason one shouldn't be able to play basketball on a donkey. Of course, one has to wonder who thought of doing this in the first place. (Obviously someone with too much time on their hands.)

    The question that comes to mind is: Are there differences in maladies and treatment between horses and donkeys?

  • 06/12/2012 01:58am

    Good question! The answer is basically, no - horses and donkeys suffer from the same things although donkeys may be slightly more prone to metabolic diseases like Cushing's disease and insulin resistance. I think this has to do more with the fact that donkeys aren't ridden as much as horses and on average may not get as much exercise, leading to obesity.

  • Donkeys !
    06/08/2012 03:29pm

    My daughter has a donkey with a new baby. I took care of her last one (Eddie) during weaning he is well mannered, she handles her Mule and Donkey babies from birth . This was my first encounter with them .
    I noticed if getting an attitude the tail swishes fast( not at flies ) along with a sour look .
    Donkey basketball has been around for many years I saw it played at the Cow Palace approx. 35 years ago during intermission . Your articles are much appreciated :)

  • 06/12/2012 02:01am

    ooohhh yes - that swishing tail never lies!

  • Donkey
    06/08/2012 06:25pm

    I have two jacks, both neutered. They are descendents of the Kona Nightingales used by the coffee farmers in the early . They are wonderful animals and are part of a pack with my 2 QH mares.

    Here's a link: keolamagazine.com/the-life-of-the.../saving-the-kona-nightingale/

  • 06/12/2012 02:00am

    Wow, that's really interesting! Thanks for sharing - I've been in love with Hawaii since we visited Maui last year :) I had no idea about the Kona donkeys!

  • mmmmm donkeys
    06/08/2012 06:34pm

    Yup, Donkeys are wonderful. They are the blacksheep of the horse world. Thought to be stubborn and ornery what use are they?

    My friend explains it to me that they are not stubborn they just wont do what you want until they have mulled it over some. They are very cautious.

    I have a friend that has a donkey and the donket took over their sunroom. He now has a mattress and sleeps with their two dogs. If he is not let into the sunroom he brays all night. 5000 dollars worth of wicker furniture had to be sold on craigslist to make room for him in the sunroom.

    I want a donkey and my wife does not. She figures the donkey will outlive me and she will be stuck with a donkey.
    Is it a valid argument for my wife to say you cant adopt a pet because you will die before the pet? I am healthy...maybe it is just wishful thinking on her part.

  • 06/12/2012 02:04am

    I agree that a donkey's stubborn-ness is purely evidence that he is thinking things over. Donkeys seem to be the type that don't do things until THEY decide it is a reasonable request.

    To your question, I've known donkeys in their 20s and I'm sure they can live even longer than that, so.... if you're planning on kicking the bucket in the next few decades, I think your wife has a valid point! :)

  • 06/14/2012 12:34am

    I have a great solution-- adopt an older donkey :) Or if you have children, see if one of them would like to be next in line. I'm next in line for my mom's African Grey parrot, and I'll probably have to hand her off to someone myself. It's all in the planning ;)

  • Name for your team
    06/08/2012 08:17pm

    I enjoyed your article and I have a suggestion for your donkey basketball team. How about bASSketballers?

  • 06/12/2012 02:05am


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