Donkey Enrichment Made Easy
Physical exercise and mental stimulation are essential for a healthy donkey. Wild donkeys encounter a variety of situations and challenges throughout a typical day. How can we mimic some of these experiences for a happy and safe existence in more confined spaces? Toys and treats for domesticated donkeys can help.
A good approach for the domesticated donkey is a “do one thing” schedule (examples listed below).
What one thing can you do each day to change up your donkey’s environment and provide mental stimulation?
“Do One Thing” in a Nut Shell
- Develop a list of 7-14 enrichment activities, then rotate through them.
- These activities could include adding new stimuli in their environment, moving around existing items, creating puzzles for them to solve, or even building different obstacles to incorporate into your routine.
- Both toys and treats are effective in providing enrichment.
Toys and treats don’t necessarily need to be bought at a store—in many cases, you can make your own or utilize items around your house (with modifications for safety, of course).
This article includes both treats and toys (some involve both) to keep your donkey occupied and entertained!
Donkeys are desert dwelling creatures and have evolved to survive on the bare minimum. They have extremely efficient digestive systems and can gain weight easily.
Be careful not to over-treat (or over feed!) donkeys.
Just because something is safe for humans doesn’t mean it is good for your donkey. Even treats, or feed, designed for horses may not be the right morsel for your donkey.
- Basic treats like carrots, apples, peppermints, bananas, watermelon, oranges, pears, grapes, celery, strawberries, and pumpkin are all safe for donkeys. But remember—everything in moderation, including treats!
- Donkeys like sweet flavors, like raspberry. You could steam or soak your hay in peppermint-infused water* or leave out buckets of cold herbal tea. These unique flavors encourage exploration via sniffing, licking, and drinking.
- You can add fruit to a bucket of water to make it more challenging to grab—think bobbing for apples, but with donkeys!
- Hay pellets or cubes are fair game, however avoid alfalfa as this will likely be too rich and high in calories. Always soak hay cubes before feeding to prevent choke and colic.
- Animal crackers (the non-frosted variety) can also make for a good treat in small quantities.
*For peppermint-infused water, use two teaspoons of peppermint extract diluted in a 5-gallon bucket of water.
Many items can make for a good donkey toy, whether it was designed for that purpose or not.
When considering a new toy for your donkey, think about how safe it will be.
Does it have any sharp edges or metal parts that could cause injury? Does it contain anything that could be poisonous or harmful if ingested? It’s best to supervise playtime, especially with new toys!
- Logs can be an excellent source of (natural!) entertainment for your donkey. They enjoy stripping the bark off the wood; willow bark even has medicinal properties, as it contains naturally occurring aspirin. Be sure to select a tree that is not poisonous to donkeys, such as ash, beech, and hazel.
- Equine play balls (or even larger balls designed for humans, like a yoga ball) can be a source of amusement. If you slightly deflate the ball, it will be easier to pick up. That said, make sure the ball has a tough skin that can handle being bitten.
This video of a donkey playing with a ball is hilarious!
- Orange traffic cones can also be a heavy-duty toy for a donkey.
- In summer months, you could add a baby pool to the donkey’s paddock and fill with water. Let the donkeys “bob for apples” or other produce in the pool.
- Speaking of pools, pool noodles can make good donkey toys! Just be sure they don’t tear off pieces of the foam and ingest it.
- If you have the means, consider a dirt pile (or piles). Yes, donkeys love baby mountains and playing “king of the hill.”
- Some donkeys will play with a length of hose (with the metal connector ends cut off). Depending on your donkey, please be aware that this could look like a snake and take some desensitization!
- Pieces of cotton rope, similar to a dog tug-toy can provide entertainment.
Two-Week “Do One Thing” Example
What can a strategic enrichment plan look like in action? Here’s an example of what I plan to do with my own donkeys.
- Introduce the KONG Equine Classic Toy
- Add a log to the paddock
- Surprise with a “Bucket Treat” of cold herbal tea
- Hide carrots in cardboard boxes (first ensure the box has any staples or tape removed to avoid injury or ingestion)
- Set up a tent right outside their paddock for desensitization
- Add an old tire to their paddock
- Expose them to bikes—first stationary, outside the paddock, then stationary, inside the paddock. Work up to riding bikes around the outside of the paddock
- Surprise with a hay snack soaked in peppermint water
- Puzzle Toy! Fill a few plastic milk jugs with carrots; string a rope across the paddock (high enough not to interfere with their ability to walk around) and hang the treat-filled milk jugs so the donkeys can figure out how to get the treats out
- Build a bridge and add it to their paddock for trail obstacle practice
- Add a mirror just outside the paddock for visual stimulation**
- Play music in the donkey paddock during daily chores
- Offer hay or straw in a slow-feed hay net
- Add a hula hoop to their paddock
**For safety, be sure the mirror is shatterproof and out of reach of the donkeys to avoid any accidents.
Frequently Asked Questions
What should you NOT feed a donkey?
Generally speaking, anything that is toxic to a horse will be toxic to a donkey as well.
- Don’t feed anything from the brassica family. This includes root vegetables such as potatoes, onions, leeks, and garlic. Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower) are toxic.
- Tomatoes and peppers are also toxic.
- Chocolate should be avoided.
- Never feed old, fermented, or moldy food or feed.
- Pesticides, herbicides, and rodenticides are all toxic to donkeys (and animals in general).
- Don’t allow donkeys to chew on wood that has been treated or painted.
Never feed grass cuttings to donkeys.
Do all donkeys like to play with toys?
No, each animal is different. What works for some may not work for others. Try a few different things to see what your donkey prefers!
Do donkeys get bored?
Yes, donkeys, like many animals, can get bored when confined and lacking stimulation. Toys and treats are just one way you can increase your donkey’s activity and keep them interested in their surroundings.
Are donkeys easy keepers?
Yes, donkeys have a very efficient digestive system and don’t take much feed to maintain a healthy weight. If you use treats to stimulate your donkey, be sure not to over-feed! Stick to low-calorie options like carrots or celery, and limit how many treats you feed.
If you use treats with toys for entertainment, increase the level of difficulty to get the reward so your donkey has to “work” for it!
Or, spread treats out so the donkey must walk a distance to get them.
How do you adopt a donkey?
There are lots of adoptable burros available through the Bureau of Land Management and various donkey rescues across the country. Read more on adopting a wild burro here.
Physical and mental stimulation are critical for keeping donkeys (as well as any animal!) healthy. A bored animal can become destructive. Treats and toys are both great methods for entertaining your donkey.
Providing additional stimulation can help donkeys to exercise, maintain a healthy weight, and enrich their day-to-day lives.
P.S. Enjoy this article? Trot on over to:
- How to Adopt a Wild Donkey: A Helpful Beginner’s Guide
- Owning Donkeys for Beginners (Pros, Cons, What to Expect)
- Donkeys and Horses: Better Together or Bad Roommates?
- Donkey vs. horse nutrition: What’s the difference?
- Do Donkeys Bite? (And How to Keep Your Fingers!)
- 5 Simple Tips to Help An Abused Horse
- Dangerous Horse: The Result of Being Abused
- Why horses are dangerous (but worth the risk!)
- 3 Fear-Free Secrets to Gain Your Horse’s Trust & Respect
- Bonding 101: How to Make the Most of Your Horse Time