Researchers Identify Signs a Painful Donkey is Improving

Researchers Identify Signs a Painful Donkey is Improving

Donkeys that received the medication showed a decrease in behaviors associated with pain and increased alertness.

Photo: Courtesy The Brooke

Researchers behind a newly published study have identified the behavior changes donkeys show when they’re relieved from pain. The research, funded by international equine welfare charity the Brooke and conducted by the Brooke Pakistan and the University of Bristol, is designed to help improve welfare for animals across the world.

More than 40 million donkeys work in extreme conditions around the world every day, supporting the livelihoods of millions of people.

The researchers on the recent study aimed to record behavior displayed by donkeys when they are in pain. Then, the researchers gave a single dose of proprietary oral anti-inflammatory drug to 20 donkeys suffering from common medical conditions including poor hoof quality, wounds, and lameness. Twenty other donkeys suffering from a similar range of medical conditions received a placebo (a honey and water solution).

Before receiving either the medication or placebo, the donkeys showed a variety of different behaviors, including closing their eyes for lengthy periods, dozing on their feet, and lowering their heads. Subsequently, the group that received the medication showed a decrease in these behaviors and increased alertness.

Painful donkeys showed a variety of different behaviors, including closing their eyes for lengthy periods, dozing on their feet, and lowering their heads.

Photo: Courtesy The Brooke

The Brooke hopes to use the study's findings to educate staff working in field programs to more effectively help working donkeys, and also to enable them to train owners to recognize when their donkey needs help.

“It is recognized that donkeys’ response to pain is different from horses and the behavioral traits they display can be more subtle, so it can be challenging to identify when they are in pain," said Melissa Upjohn, research coordinator for the Brooke. "We’re delighted that it’s been possible to generate evidence about the way they behave in response to pain, most importantly, because when we’re working with donkeys and training owners and community health service providers, we can more accurately recognize how donkeys act when they’re ill or injured.”

Becky Whay, BScHons, PhD, NDA, a reader in animal welfare and behavior at the University of Bristol School of Veterinary Sciences, added, “Working horses and donkeys support the livelihoods of some of the world’s poorest people. However, these animals are often overburdened and used for long hours in harsh conditions. We hope our research will make a difference to the lives of these animals and our work will advise owners and vets on how to better look after their animals.”

The study, "Identifying behavioural differences in working donkeys in response to analgesic administration," will appear in a future issue of the Equine Veterinary Journal and is available to view online

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