Study shows donkeys need more protection from winter weather than horses

16 November 2017

A new study with The Donkey Sanctuary shows that donkeys, and to a lesser extent mules, are less able than horses to adapt to colder, wetter climates and therefore require additional protection in the winter to meet their welfare needs.

Since 2015 The Donkey Sanctuary has been working in collaboration with Dr Britta Osthaus, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Canterbury Christ Church University and Dr Leanne Proops, Senior Lecturer at the University of Portsmouth, both specialists in animal behaviour and cognition.

The study, Protection from the Elements: A comparative study of shelter use, hair density and heat loss, aims to provide the first scientific assessment of the extent to which donkeys require protection from the elements across the range of environmental conditions typically experienced in the British Isles.

The findings from the first part of the project are now published in the Equine Veterinary Journal. It reports how measurements of the insulation properties of the hair samples (weight, length and thickness) indicate that donkeys’ coats do not change significantly across the seasons and that their coats were significantly lighter, shorter and thinner than that of horses and mules in winter. In contrast the coats of horses and ponies changed significantly between seasons, growing much thicker in winter.

Dr Faith Burden from The Donkey Sanctuary said: “For many years it has been the ‘common sense’ advice given by The Donkey Sanctuary to ensure that donkeys and mules are given the right protection from our cold winters. This study now provides us with scientific evidence to show why the welfare needs of donkeys and mules differ slightly to those of horses and ponies, and how we can act to give them better protection from the elements.”

Further publications from the project are planned, looking at heat loss and the behavioural responses of donkeys and horses to different weather conditions.

The full article, published in the Equine Veterinary Journal, can be viewed here

Notes to Editors

  • The Donkey Sanctuary was established as a charity in 1969 by Dr Elisabeth Svendsen. Her devotion to championing the cause of donkeys is the foundation for the international charity it is today. The Donkey Sanctuary’s vision is a world where donkeys and mules live free from suffering, and their contribution to humanity is fully valued. The Donkey Sanctuary has 10 sanctuaries around the UK and Europe providing lifelong care to over 6,000 donkeys and mules. It runs a Donkey-Assisted Therapy programme across the UK, which benefits children and adults with additional needs by allowing them to connect with donkeys on an emotional and physical level. It also operates in many countries around the world, including Mexico, Peru, Egypt, Ethiopia, Romania, Portugal and India. Donkeys are stoical creatures and those who depend on them for their livelihood often take advantage of their hardworking traits. The Donkey Sanctuary’s outreach embraces veterinary care, nutrition, housing, working hours, weight of load and welfare-friendly harness and cart design. It is collaborative in all its activities, working through a network of partner organisations, individuals and communities.   

Canterbury Christ Church University

Canterbury Christ Church University is a modern university with a particular strength in higher education for the public services.

With 17,000 students across Kent and Medway, its courses span a wide range of academic and professional subject areas.

  • Over 94% of our UK undergraduates were in employment or further studies six months after completing their studies*.
  • We are one of the South East’s largest providers of education, training and skills leading to public service careers.

*2015/16 Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education survey





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Last edited: 14/12/2018 23:30:00