The Importance of Donkey Dentals

The Importance of Donkey Dentals

February 2024

February is national Dental Month, so what better time to talk about the importance of equine dentals. And, yes .. even donkeys need dentals!   Dental care for donkeys is just as critical as it is for horses, yet it often receives less attention. 


Donkeys have a distinct dental anatomy characterized by hypsodont (continuously growing) teeth. Their grazing habits and diet, which typically involve coarse and abrasive forage, contribute to the wear and tear of their teeth. This constant growth and grinding create specific dental challenges that necessitate regular attention.  Many people are familiar with the fact that equines need their teeth “floated” by an equine professional. However, there are other dental related issues that can affect a donkey such as: 


  • Periodontal Disease: Inflammation or infection of the gums and other supporting structures can occur due to bacterial buildup, leading to discomfort and potential tooth loss.
  • Tooth Decay: Equine teeth can develop caries or decay, leading to pain and possible tooth loss if not addressed. This can also lead to infections which can spread and cause serious health issues, even leading to death.
  • Digestive Issues and Malnutrition: Inadequate chewing due to dental problems can hinder the breakdown of food, causing poor digestion and absorption of nutrients, ultimately resulting in weight loss and malnutrition.


Just like in humans, poor oral care can have broader health implications beyond the mouth. It can contribute to systemic issues due to compromised nutrition and digestion, affecting the overall health and immunity of the animal.Here are some of the common problems that arise due to inadequate dental care:


Impact on Nutrition and Health

Proper dental function is vital for donkeys to adequately chew and digest food. Dental issues like overgrown teeth, malocclusion (misalignment), or uneven wear resulting in hooks, ramps and waves can hinder their ability to chew effectively, leading to poor digestion, weight loss, and malnutrition. Addressing these issues ensures that donkeys can consume and benefit from their diet, maintaining their overall health.


Preventing Pain and Discomfort

Similar to horses, failure to wear down teeth properly can cause sharp points or elongated teeth, leading to pain, oral sores, and difficulty eating. Left unattended, these issues can escalate, affecting the animal's temperament, feeding habits, and overall well-being. Regular dental check-ups help identify and address these problems early, preventing pain and discomfort for the donkey.  One of the first things we look at when a donkey is losing weight is their teeth.


Behavioral Implications

Donkeys experiencing dental discomfort may exhibit changes in behavior, such as reluctance to eat, dropping food while chewing, or displaying signs of irritability. Such behavioral changes can impact their interactions with handlers and overall quality of life.


Aging and Dental Challenges

As donkeys age, dental care becomes increasingly vital as dental problems become more common. Issues such as worn-down or dental diseases become more prevalent, requiring more frequent check-ups and specialized care to ensure proper dental function and comfort in their later years.  Tooth loss also becomes an issue as they get older and causes issues with lack of wear on the opposing tooth. 


What can you do?

Annual dental examinations by a qualified professional (Veterinarian or Equine Dentist) are recommended by the American Association of Equine Practitioners.  Floating to address overgrown teeth and promptly addressing any dental abnormalities are crucial in preventing and managing dental related problems.  


Dental care is an essential and necessary component of responsible donkey ownership. Ensuring optimal dental health not only prevents discomfort and pain but also supports their ability to eat, thrive, and live fulfilling and happy lives.

Side bar

Ask the Donkey Doctor: Care of Donkey Ears


 "I recently added a mammoth donkey to my equine family.  He loves to have the inside of his ears scratched and massaged.  He has LOTS of gunk in there.  My mini donkey doesn't have much so I leave them alone.  I wanted to find out if I should be doing anything for my big guy?  I don't want to stop his spoiling but dang that's nasty.  LOL"


Hi Gunky Ears!  

You are not alone .. some donkeys are more prone to waxy, dirty build up in their ears. It's usually not a problem for the donkey, but it isn't always pleasant for the person sticking their fingers down there to give them the inside ear rub that they seem to like so much.  We have an easy solution.  Wrap a baby wipe around your fingers to get the inside of the ears clean and protect your hands from the nasty gunk.  The donkeys seem to love it!