Just a casual glance at donkeys’ hooves will inform you that they are rather different from horses’ hooves. In appearance, a donkey’s hoof is more compact and has a more straight up-and-down wall. A horse’s hoof is a bit wider and has a slanting wall. Donkeys’ hooves differ from horses’ hooves in more ways than just appearance, though.
In this article, we discuss the structure of donkeys’ hooves and provide sound information on trimming and caring for them. Read on to learn more on how to trim donkey hooves.
What You'll Learn Today
How Are Donkeys’ Hooves Different?
Donkeys originated in desert settings where the ground is hard and dry and often rocky. Because of this, their hooves are able to absorb moisture efficiently in order to stay flexible and avoid splitting and chipping. Unfortunately, in the average horse pasture this ability can cause problems.
Similarly to goats, donkeys kept in a soft paddock setting or in a grassy pasture may develop soft hooves. This can be problematic in a couple of ways:
- First, softer hooves on softer ground don’t tend to wear down efficiently and can become overgrown very easily.
- Second, soft hooves are more likely to develop problems with fungal and bacterial infections.
Another problem that often comes up for domestic donkeys is that they tend not to get enough exercise. Lack of exercise also causes lack of hoof wear. Many sedentary donkeys’ hooves wear unevenly with the heel remaining too high.
Because this is the only type of donkey hoof many veterinarians and farriers have seen, it is often mistakenly considered the norm. This means that donkeys’ hooves are often trimmed in a way that leaves the heel too high and the toe too short. This leads to hoof and joint problems.
How Often To Trim Donkey Hooves
You should schedule regular hoof trimmings every couple of months; there is no exact rule for that. As a donkey owner, you should take various things into consideration, such as availability of your farrier, the overall workload of your donkey, whether she is pregnant or not, etc.
When you’re looking for a farrier to trim your donkey’s hooves, be sure that the person really knows about the important differences between donkey and horse hooves. Look for someone who has verifiable references from donkey-owning clients.
11 Tips For Trimming Donkeys’ Hooves
- Rasp the hoof walls so that they are even with the sole.
- Balance each hoof heel to toe and side-to-side.
- The quarters may be rasped a bit shorter to keep the walls even with the sole.
- Keep the heels short.
- The tough, wide frog should be trimmed of uneven, dead material, flattened and kept in contact with the ground.
- The bars should be kept intact and should slope from heel to cleft. Bars only need to be trimmed if they are overgrown and/or are folded over.
- Scrape and clear away any flaky material from the concave area of the sole.
- Round the outer edge of the hoof wall into a brumby or mustang roll for a good barefoot trim that will resist chipping and cracking.
- Front and back feet may not match one another, but front feet should be a matched pair in angle in length, and so should the back feet.
- Schedule regular hoof trimmings.
- Remember that donkeys (especially older ones) do not like to have their feet lifted very high. A good donkey farrier just lifts the hoof a few inches off the ground to work.
Hoof Trimming Donkeys
What About Problem Hooves?
If your donkey has generally healthy hooves, following the simple tips above will help keep them that way. In the event of hoof problems, you’ll need to work closely with your veterinarian and your farrier to address and correct chipping, cracking, disease and lameness.
If hooves are badly overgrown, the vet should be called out to perform x-rays before trimming to identify any bone deformity that may have developed. If x-rays reveal bone deformity, talk with the vet about pain management.
When not kept in a desert setting, donkeys may be prone to a number of hoof diseases including:
1. Seedy Toe Or White Line Disease
This disease causes the white line (very small space) between the hoof wall and the sole of the hoof to degenerate. When this happens, the tissues become crumbly and weak.
While this condition, in itself, is not usually painful, it can make it possible for tiny pebbles, dirt and bacteria to enter the hoof. This causes infection, which is quite painful.
To treat seedy toe, your farrier or veterinarian will need to cut away the part of the hoof wall that has been affected. Once all of the discolored and dead material has been removed, healthy hoof can grow out.
Treatment may take a very long time with your vet and farrier working together and with you cooperating by keeping your donkey in a very clean, dry setting to prevent further problems.
This is a fungal infection which is caused by the very same fungus that is responsible for athlete’s foot in people. This fungal infection affects the sole of the hoof and is easily identified by the unpleasant, musty smell.
Minor cases can be treated by simply moving the donkey to an area with clean, dry footing. Very severe cases may need to be treated with antifungal cream and/or medicated foot powder applied inside hoof boots.
3. Hoof Abscesses
Hoof abscess can occur if the sole of the hoof is punctured by a sharp object, or if the donkey has white line disease and bacteria has made its way into the hoof. When this happens, pus will develop around the bacteria causing a great deal of pressure inside the hoof. This is naturally very painful.
A hoof abscess should only be treated by your veterinarian, who may recommend that you soak or poultice the hoof to help draw out the infection. Alternately, he or she may use the hoof knife to open up the abscess and drain the infection.
Your vet may also prescribe hoof soaks, application of antibiotic salve and bandaging and/or oral or injected antibiotics.
This is a severe and very painful disease that has a number of different causes including:
- Metabolic imbalances
- Excessive rich food
If left untreated, laminitis can cause the support mechanisms within the hoof to break down. The toe bone inside the hoof may rotate or move in a downward fashion. The result can be permanent, irreversible damage.
If your donkey seems tender-footed, doesn’t want to walk or even get up, suspect laminitis. To verify your suspicions, place your hand just above the donkey’s hoof. If the area feels hot, and/or you sense a very strong pulse, your donkey is probably suffering from laminitis.
If your donkey is in a safe setting, don’t make him move. Instead, make sure he has good access to fresh hay and water and call your vet right away.
Your vet will probably want to take x-rays to determine exactly what damage has been done. Treatment for laminitis in donkeys may include frequent, light trimmings to help correct any damage.
Unlike laminitis in horses, laminitis in donkeys should not be addressed with heart-bar shoes or frog supports. Instead, the entire sole of the hoof should be padded.
Talk with your vet about appropriate padding. In some cases, thick bandaging is advised. In other cases, a protective foam material may be duct taped onto the sole of the donkey’s hooves.
Frequently Asked Questions
The best way to get your donkey to stand for the farrier is to handle and clean his feet on a regular (daily) basis. If your donkey is used to having his feet cared for, he will be far more likely to cooperate with the farrier. If you have a new acquisition, or one that has not been handled much, you may have to resort to some old-fashioned restraint tricks, such as blindfolding and/or using a twitch to distract the donkey’s attention away from the farrier. It’s best to avoid this, though. Donkeys are smart, and they have long memories. If you make a donkey do something he doesn’t want to do, he won’t forget it! If your donkey is hysterical the first few times he’s seen by the farrier, it’s best to sedate him until you’ve had a chance to work with him and he’s had a chance to see that the farrier isn’t dangerous.
Thrush is a fungal infection, so to treat it effectively, you must move your donkey to a clean, dry setting. Clean the hooves thoroughly and treat with an anti-fungal treatment such as White Lightning. If the infection does not clear up in a reasonable period of time, (1-2 weeks) you may need to have your farrier excise the damaged parts of the hoof and continue treating with anti-fungal treatment. Keep your donkey off wet, soggy ground in future.
You can very often smell a bad thrush infection even when you are a few feet away from an affected horse or donkey. When you lift the hoof, you will find dark, mushy tissue on the sole of the foot.
When a donkey’s hooves have been left to become so overgrown that they look like toe-curled Turkish slippers, it is never wise to attempt to remedy the problem yourself. It would be very easy to do permanent damage to these already-compromised hooves. Additionally, it takes some knowledge of donkey anatomy and cause and effect to know what to trim and why and to understand how the trim will affect the donkey’s physiology and gait. For this reason, badly overgrown hooves should always be tended by a very skilled farrier. It may take multiple incremental trims to get the hooves back to normal.
Generally speaking, donkeys have tough, resilient hooves. If you keep your donkey in a clean, dry setting and provide a sensible diet of good hay, fresh water and a salt and mineral block, you should not need to add hoof supplements to the diet or apply oil to the hooves.