Does your donkey really, truly need a blanket?
- If he is younger than 4 years old or older than 20, he will likely benefit from a blanket when the weather is extreme.
- If he is younger than 1 or older than 25 and facing an unusual cold spell, he needs a blanket.
- If he has other health issues. Ramsey and Ben are good examples. Ramsey had a nearly fatal hoof infection when he was 4 months old. He had surgery at Cornell followed by 6 months of intense follow-up care. He has arthritis issues stemming from that time. He had Lyme disease two years ago that exacerbated the arthritis. He had another tick borne disease last year. In cold weather, he gets sore and unhappy. Keeping him warm drastically improves his quality of life. Ben also had a bad tick borne illness last year that caused major muscle/joint pain and triggered laminitis. He has also just been diagnosed with Cushing's, which causes immune system depression and interferes with the body's ability to regulate temperature. Animals like this need all the help they can get. They will survive without a blanket, but there is difference between surviving and thriving.
- If your critter is shivering he needs a blanket.
All of that should be fairly obvious, but what about healthy, adult donkeys with good shelter and feed? Do they NEED blankets when we have a horrible cold snap like this?
If they are in good condition and are well acclimated to bad winters, than no they do not NEED blankets. They will survive and the chubby ones may even shiver some extra weight off and be healthier for it in the long run.
Do those healthy, adult donkeys WANT blankets in this horrible weather?
The answer to that mostly depends on the donkey, where he is and how good his shelter is, but many donkeys will be happier with a blanket during prolonged cold.
Physically, horses are much better able to adapt to sudden changes in temperature than donkeys are. Donkeys can handle a wide variety of temps, but it takes them longer to adjust. Horses have extensive vasculature directly under their skin that allows them to either dispel or conserve body heat. Donkeys do not have this same vasculature. Their bodies are more adapted to getting rid of excess heat than in conserving it. They grow very thick coats, but it is a coarser coat that does not hold heat as well as a horse's short, dense coat.
Will a healthy donkey survive some bad weather? Yes. Do they like being cold? No.
Some signs or reasons that your donkey may want a blanket:
- Not wanting to be touched in cold weather.
- Muscle tension
- Exercise: This is critical to the health of all equines. If your donkey will go out with a blanket and brave the elements instead of hiding in the barn, this is a good enough reason to blanket.
- Sleep deprivation. People tend to look at me funny when I say this, but it is very true. Equines can doze standing up and it is true that they require less sleep than many other animals. However, they DO need to be able to lie and go into a deep sleep every day. If horses or donkeys don't feel comfortable lying down, they will become increasingly sleep deprived and will eventually fall down. The extreme version of sleep deprivation is pretty obvious, but the more subtle signs include irritability and an unbalanced stance when dozing.
I saw Emma doing this last week. She was standing in the barn door, hind leg cocked, head down, dozing, but she also had one front leg cocked and she wobbled a bit when her head drooped. The reason that she was not lying down was because she was cold. Not long after putting her blanket on, she laid down and slept hard for over an hour.
Random video of sleep deprived horse from YouTube, this is what Emma was doing:
So, does Emma, my healthy, adult, fat donkey NEED a blanket?
No. I know she will survive without one and may even lose a few pounds doing it.
Does Emma like her blanket?
YES! She is far more relaxed and happy wearing it. She does not sweat under it so I know she is not too warm.
I am well aware that wild horses and donkeys survive just fine (mostly, until they don't) without our help. However, these are not wild donkeys. They are not living in a climate that they are suited for. And, the average lifespan of a wild horse is 12-14 years. I want mine to live 2-3 times that.
Blankets are an unquestionable hazard, especially if they don’t fit well. They require daily monitoring and attention. They need to be taken off and put back on as the weather changes. They increase the maintenance required for daily donkey care. If you are OK with all of that and you feel better knowing your beloved friends are warm and toasty, than go ahead and blanket your fat, healthy, adult donkeys. All of you will enjoy the company and attention blankets require. As long as a blanket won't cause harm than peace of mind for the owner is a valid reason to blanket.
Most of us own donkeys because we love them. We worry about them, we lie awake at night wondering if they are OK. If putting a blanket on your fat, healthy donkey will make you feel good and make her happy, then do it. If it helps both of you sleep at night, what is wrong with that?
Which is why Emma is wearing a brand new blankie tonight even though I should be making her shiver off some of her extra pounds.