A study has identified the changes in behaviour that donkeys show when they’re relieved from pain.

The research was funded by The Brooke and conducted by The Brooke Pakistan and University of Bristol.

The research, funded by international equine welfare charity The Brooke, and conducted by The Brooke Pakistan and the University of Bristol, will help improve welfare for animals across the world.

There are more than 40 million donkeys working in extreme conditions around the world every day, supporting the livelihoods of millions of people. The study, titled ‘Identifying behavioural differences in working donkeys in response to analgesic administration’ aimed to record behaviour displayed by donkeys when they are in pain.

It involved giving a single dose of proprietary oral anti-inflammatory drug to 20 donkeys suffering from common medical conditions, including poor hoof quality, wounds and lameness. A placebo was given to 20 other donkeys suffering from a similar range of medical conditions.

Before receiving either the proprietary medication or a honey and water solution, donkeys showed a variety of different behaviours, including closing their eyes for lengthy periods, dozing on their feet, and lowering their heads. The results indicated that afterwards, the group that received the medication showed a decrease in all these behaviour traits, and an increase in alertness.

The findings of the study will be used by The Brooke to inform staff working in field programmes to more effectively help working donkeys, and also to enable them to train owners to recognise when their donkey is suffering and needs help.

Melissa Upjohn, research coordinator for The Brooke said: “It is recognised that donkeys’ response to pain is different from horses and the behavioural traits they display can be more subtle, so it can be challenging to identify when they are in pain.

“We’re delighted 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 recognise how donkeys act when they’re ill or injured.”

The full text is available to view at the Wiley online library.

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