Donkeys have specific nutritional needs that are quite different to those of their close farmyard relative, the horse. Unlike horses, donkeys evolved in harsh, arid conditions and have adapted to survive off of vegetation with low nutritional value. Consequently, foods high in sugars and starches can be detrimental to their health, as their digestive physiology has not evolved to handle them properly.
The gas-inducing properties of cabbage are well known but often overlooked, as this vegetable offers so many health benefits. But can donkeys benefit from cabbage in the same way that humans do? The interesting answer is that, although cabbage would provide the same nutritional advantages to donkeys as it does to us, it is best left out of their diet. Read on to find out why.
Why Not Give Cabbage to Donkeys?
Cabbage is a member of the cruciferous group of vegetables, a large family also known as the brassicas. They include cauliflower, broccoli, kale, brussels sprouts, turnips and spinach, to name a few. These vegetables contain a sugar called raffinose, of which cabbage, broccoli, and kale contain the highest amounts¹. Herein lies the problem. Raffinose is known to cause bloating in both humans and animals.
Donkeys, with their particularly sugar-sensitive digestive systems, find it very difficult to break down this sugar, and so their propensity to experience bloating is much greater. A build-up of gas in the donkey’s bowel can cause colic¹, which is a very dangerous condition that can quickly become life-threatening if not treated immediately. For this reason, it is best not to feed donkeys cabbage at all.
What If My Donkey Eats Some Cabbage?
Although cabbage is best eliminated from the donkey’s diet if your donkey does happen to consume a little, whether by accident or intentionally, you needn’t be overly concerned. It is only necessary to worry if the donkey has gorged itself on the vegetable. If this is the case, then it is advisable to consult your veterinarian as soon as possible for advice on whether any kind of treatment is warranted.
What Other Foods Shouldn’t Donkeys Eat?
Because of donkeys’ efficient digestive adaptations, many other foods are unsuitable for them, including horse feed. In the same way that donkeys should not be given horse feed (except as an occasional treat in very small quantities), they should not be given any other animal feeds. It is likely that the nutritional value will be too high, which could lead to health problems, such as obesity, laminitis¹, and hyperlipemia¹. Another reason to steer clear of animal feeds is that some are laced with medicines targeted specifically for certain animals. If they are consumed by a donkey, it could be life-threatening.
Protein-rich forage, like alfalfa (lucerne), should be avoided too, as donkeys are unable to excrete the excess nitrogen in the protein as other animals do.
They should also not be fed carbohydrate-rich spoils, such as bread, candy, chocolate, biscuits, and the like. Cereal grains, such as barley and oats, are also a no-no because of their high sugar and starch content.
Apart from cabbage, there are a few other vegetables that should be avoided such as onions, garlic, tomatoes, broccoli, aubergine, and potatoes. It is also advisable not to feed—or allow your donkey to eat—stone fruits, as they pose a choking hazard. This is not an exhaustive list, and it is recommended that you do some research before offering a snack to your donkey to ensure it is donkey-safe.
Of course, access to pastures, feed, or plants that have been treated with herbicides, pesticides or rodenticides should also be prohibited.
There are several naturally occurring plants and shrubs to be aware of. Donkeys should not be allowed to snack on the following:
- Oak trees
- Black Walnut trees
- Red Maple trees
- Japanese Yew
Learn how to identify¹ these. And if you find them growing in your donkeys’ paddock, try and either remove them or cordon them off.
What To Feed Donkeys
Donkeys are one of the easiest of the farmyard crew to feed. They require generally lower-grade fodder, which is high in fiber and low in sugar and starch. This is great news for the other livestock that will get the best pickings! Straw is a good staple for donkeys— in particular, barley straw, which has a low sugar content. Only clean, dry, and mold and dust-free straw should be offered to your big-eared equine buddies.
Donkeys are generalist herbivores and enjoy grazing and browsing a wide variety of plants. Though tey love to tuck into pasture, this lush grazing should only be supplementary. The bulk of their nutritional intake (at least 75%) should be obtained from straw. Even in winter, the high-fiber component of their diet should not be less than 50%.
Although barley straw is a good low-carbohydrate fodder choice for donkeys, it can be a bit low in essential vitamins and minerals. It is, therefore, not a bad idea to allow your donkeys access to a good-quality salt/mineral lick. Any lick that is formulated for horses will be suitable for donkeys too.
Elderly donkeys and those with poor dentition may not fair as well on a fiber-rich diet. For these special individuals, their dietary needs and shortcomings would need to be assessed and a specific diet devised. This will likely include some form of nutritionally denser concentrate feed.
It’s fine to include hays and other forage with a higher carbohydrate content in your donkey’s diet during winter, as they are likely to burn off those extra calories while keeping warm.
Whatever you decide to feed your donkeys, don’t forget to have fresh, clean water available at all times.
Treats For Donkeys
With so many restrictions on what donkeys can healthily consume, you might be left wondering what you can offer your floppy-eared friend as a treat. There are plenty of healthy snacks that will have your donkey in a slobbering frenzy. Try these foods when you want to treat your donkey:
Especially with the firmer fruits and vegetables, ensure that they are chopped up enough to minimize the chance of choking. Sticks are best, while discs or round shapes are not a good choice.
Small, infrequent amounts of cabbage will probably not harm your donkey. However, considering their specially-adapted digestive systems it is best to leave it out of their diet. Especially with so many other tasty treats available without such nasty (and potentially dangerous) side effects, there really is no need to introduce cabbage to their diet. Leave the cabbage for your other farm yard friends, and offer Eeyore a juicy apple instead!
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