Fifteen years of research on donkeys finds many worthy attributes

A 15-year study found donkeys and horses to be seperate species

Nora Matthews, a veterinarian in the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences at Texas A&M University, has spent the last 15 years studying donkeys, and she says they are a separate species from horses. In particular, Matthews has looked at how donkeys react to drugs and how they handle anesthesia, which appears to differ from horses.

“We know now that donkeys and horses react differently to drugs,” Matthews explains. “The way a donkey’s metabolism works is not the same as that of a horse. Donkeys metabolize a drug faster, which is surprising considering they are not usually as big as a horse.”

Donkeys come in three broad size ranges, Matthews explains. The smallest is miniature; standard is medium sized and the largest, which is about the same size as a horse, is called a mammoth. Donkeys also come in a variety of colors, including black, white, brown, gray and even pink. They can also be multi-colored.

As for their intelligence, Matthews says the term “horse sense” should have been applied to donkeys. “Many people think—and I am one of them—that donkeys are smarter than horses,” she explains. “In fact, they are very intelligent creatures who don’t scare as easily as horses. When threatened, they tend to freeze, which is probably how they got the reputation of being stubborn.”

Other donkey advantages, according to Matthews: Donkeys are better adapted to climate changes; they can withstand heat better; they can go longer without water than a horse; and they are more resistant to many diseases than horses. Donkeys live longer than horses, too. Matthews says it’s not uncommon for donkeys to live 40 years or more (some have lived to be 60).

Another useful trait of donkeys: they can guard a herd of sheep against predators such as coyotes and wolves. “Donkeys are frequently used in Western states and other countries as guard animals because they will run off coyotes,” Matthews says. “But dogs and donkeys don’t get along at all. They will kick and bite at dogs and coyotes in a very effective manner.”

Additionally, donkeys are very affectionate, easily trainable and respond extremely well to voice commands, Matthews says. Because of their gentle nature, they are frequently used for riding for disabled persons, and they are usually well-behaved when around children, she adds.

Donkeys are especially popular in Central and South America and parts of Europe, where they are still widely used as work animals, and China appears to have about 11 million donkeys, more than any country. It’s estimated there are about 90 million donkeys worldwide, Matthews adds.

“If we can learn more about how they react to medicines and new drugs, it can help us in other areas,” Matthews continues. “For instance, we know that donkeys give birth to twins much more often than horses. Why, no one knows. To date, there hasn’t been a great deal of research done on donkeys, and with them, one question seems to lead to many other questions that we just don’t know.”


  1. I don’t like them testing animals with drugs but this article was different I always new that donkey’s was a little different from horses but I didn’t know that much about them. This was a good article I just hope that they don’t test them with stuff that will hurt them.

  2. This makes me want a donkey really badly. Though I think my horse is easily as smart as a donkey. I just think that their intelligence is different.

  3. Nice general informative articel. However, you failed to mention that Donkeys are EXTREMELY social animals, and should NEVER be kept by themselves! Worst case, they should be kept with horses , cattle, sheep etc, but BEST is with at least one other Donkey. Thanks for all your intereting articles and hard work!

  4. I enjoyed my horses,but they didn’t hold a candle to my mule.I agree with the whole donkey smarter than horses thing.I’ve wanted a donkey for years.When the B.L.M.rounds up burros and mustangs it’s normally the burros that buddy up to the humans.In northwest Nevada there is a lonely stretch of road that features a burro crossing sign.You can often find burros hanging out there waiting for cars to come by.They figured out people will give them treats.It’s not uncommon to see a jenny and her foal!It’s near Fields Station,Oregon.

  5. i really liked your research emphasis on donkeys. i am from Pakistan and here this is the creature which is totally neglected .so i want to do some research on this animal regarding molecular biology can you help in that?

  6. My donkeys are incredibly intelligent and respond extremely well to positive reinforcement training. I agree that they are very affectionate animals! The person in the comments who said they should be kept with other donkeys is so right. Donkeys form extremely close bonds with other animals and it is very stressful for them to be separated.

  7. I have 2, both rescues. They get along well with my 2 mares, but not so much with my Flat Coat. I don’t blame anyone, but they did chase him when he was 4 months old and he hasn’t forgot. They have a love/hate relationship. My donks are great!!!

  8. I totally agree on donkey intelligence. I have a donkey and a mustang horse and there is a world of difference between the two. Where my horse might take flight over something I ask of him, my donkey on the other hand, has to think about whether he wants to do it or be involved in it. You can almost see the thought processes going through his head ! He is a terrific problem solver when he wants to do something. Even after I have blocked his efforts in some way, like attaching my metal double chair swing to a tree to keep him from moving it around the yard, he still finds a way to satisfy his need to move that object–now the double chair is still attached to the tree but it is sitting up-ended! And he is both affectionate and funny. I call him Jacko Houdini !

  9. Marjorie Farabee of TMR Rescue Inc. has come to realize just how lacking the donkey specific research and medical data is. She came to this realization after the most loving and wonderful donkey named Charlie graced us with his love and presence for a mere 111 days. Blood work could only be compared to data from horses–not adequate at all. In honor of this amazing donkey Marjorie has began Charlie’s Project to fill this void in medical research and information. It is a place for donkey specific medical data to be submitted. You can go to this link for TMR Rescue Inc for more information and also contact information.

  10. My neighbor has two female donkeys and every day I talk to them and give them horse snacks.. They are so precious and I love them both dearly. Each day to go out and pet them and talk with them.


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