What Treats Can I Give My Donkeys?

What Treats Can I Give My Donkeys?

donkey treats

“Spoil your donkey with love, not treats”, Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue, USA

It can be really hard not to overindulge your donkeys. When they look at you longingly with those big brown eyes and impossibly sweet faces, you just want to give them all the goodies their hearts desire…

DISCLAIMER: I am not a qualified equine nutritionist or veterinarian. The information in this blog post should only be used in conjunction with professional advice. Safe food for any individual donkey depends upon a wide range of factors.  

Given half a chance, donkeys will enjoy a fantastic array of munchies, from your basic apples and carrots, to peppermints, parsley, pretzels, gingersnaps, crackers, bananas, watermelon, oranges, pears, sweet potato, liquorice and even Weetabix. Some will even happily wash it all down with a nice cold beer!

However, before we get completely carried away, let’s remember, donkeys started out as desert dwellers, able to survive on little more than woody plants and shrubs. They have extremely efficient digestive systems and can extract every last bit of nutrition from what they eat. This means that snacks that are suitable for humans and even for other equines, are often not suitable for donkeys.

Donkeys Eating Grass

Weight Watching

New donkey owners are often surprised at just how easily their donkeys can gain weight, especially in places with temperate climates and an abundance of lush green grass. Overweight and obese donkeys are vulnerable to serious health problems such as laminitis, founder, joint problems, liver disease and metabolic disorders.

It’s also true that if your donkey gets lots of treats, he can become agitated when he doesn’t get them, or develop unwanted aggressive behaviour, seeing people as nothing more than a source of food.

So, what’s the best way to treat your donkey, without turning him into an ill-mannered and unhealthy podger?

healthy donkey treats
Colorful root vegetables. Carrots, beetroots, turnips Photo: Autumn Market

Healthy Treats

Fruit and veg (apples, pears, watermelon, oranges, bananas, carrots, turnips, sweet potato, squash and swedes – including skins and rinds) are healthy and will add variety to your donkey’s diet.

Offer different treats to keep life interesting. Add a dash of cinnamon to vegetables to make them extra tempting. Put fruit in a bucket of water for bobbing fun, or freeze it to make iced snacks on a hot day.

Donkeys at RSPCA Lockwood in Surrey enjoying some refreshing watermelon (turn up the volume for slurping noises):

Video used with kind permission of RSPCA Lockwood

How Much to Give

A handful (one or two pieces) a day is generally thought to be a reasonable amount. Cut carrots into 2″ strips to avoid choking and cut apples into wedges. If you have an older donkey without many teeth, you can grate or mash apple or carrot and feed it as a treat or mix it in with their daily mulch. It’s not advisable to hand feed foals as this can encourage biting and, in any case, they really don’t need treats.

Never give too much in one go as this can cause colic. The golden rule is everything in moderation. Some owners would say once a day is too much, preferring to limit treats to every other day, every few days or no more than once a week.

It also depends on the age, temperament, condition and weight of your donkey as well as how much exercise he gets. A working or active donkey will burn more calories than one who doesn’t move around much. If your donkey is already overweight you need to cut treats right back, or out altogether, until his weight is normal.

What to Avoid

Cereal grains such as oats and barley are are high in starch and sugar so give sparingly or not at all. If using rationed amounts for donkeys who require extra nutrition, grains should be crimped, cracked or rolled (not whole). Avoid sugary biscuits, bread and cake and never feed meat or dairy products – animal protein can be fatal to donkeys.

Onions, leeks, garlic, cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower), anything from the nightshade family (potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, aubergine), stoned fruit and chocolate are also to be avoided.

Cow Parsley
Cow Parsley


Donkeys are natural foragers and will enjoy munching on Huckleberry, Wild Thyme, Lettuce, Mint, Fennel, Brambles, Thistles, Cow Parsley, carrot tops, celeriac, apple and lime leaves, Field Maple branches, Bamboo, Raspberry Cane, Palm leaves, Salal Berry, Oregon Grape or whatever the local hedgerows have to offer.

Alder, Birch, Blackberry, Blackthorn, Clover, Dogrose, Dogwood, Gorse, Hawthorn, Hazel, Heather, Poplar, Quickthorn, Rosa Rugosa, Sweet Briar Rose, Garden Vetch and Willow (in limited quantities) are also safe according to The Donkey Sanctuary. Just watch out for plants that are poisonous to donkeys.

RSPCA Lockwood Centre for Donkeys and Horses provides lots of environmental enrichment for their resident herd of donkeys. At Donkey Treat Time grooms place an array of items in and around the barn for the donkeys to play with. Treats are hidden inside hanging buckets with holes in the bottom, willow logs and piles of straw.

Donkey Treat Time
Donkey Treat Time at RSPCA Lockwood

Donkeys love stripping the bark from willow logs and other branches and will enjoy investigating scented oils and mineral licks (only use licks made for Equines, not for other livestock).

Try scattering dried herbs on the ground for them to explore, or leave out a bucket of lukewarm fruit or herbal tea for them to sniff, lick or drink. If you’re feeling really adventurous, hay can be steamed with peppermint infused water and equine play balls can be scented with ginger to make them more interesting.

Place treats at distances to encourage your donkeys to walk, or inside objects so that they have to work to retrieve them. Milk bottles, old tyres and cardboard boxes make great hiding places. See my 10 Easy Enrichment Ideas for Donkeys.

donkey treat


If you’re training your donkey using food rewards, break them into small pieces so that they last longer. You also don’t want your donkey to have to stop and chew as this will disrupt your timing and flow.

Low sugar treats such as hay pellets and broken hay cubes work well as do Mini Wheats, Cheerios, animal cracker pieces and carrot sticks. Gingersnaps, peppermints and crimped oats make great high value rewards but use them sparingly.

Some low-sugar horse treats are Minty, Apply and Hedgy Treats by NAF in the UK and Purina Berry Good Senior Horse Treats in the U.S.

You can also try using verbal praise or scratching your donkey in his favourite spot instead. This often works surprisingly well.

What treats do your donkeys enjoy? Please comment below!


Safe Plants for Donkeys

Feeding Donkeys A Donkey Diary

What to Feed Your Donkeys The Donkey Sanctuary fact sheet

Safe Trees and Shrubs for Donkeys The Donkey Sanctuary

Poisonous Plants and Trees The Donkey Sanctuary

Equine Enrichment Facebook Page

10 Easy Enrichment Ideas for Donkeys

Please note: The information on this page should only be used in conjunction with professional advice. For matters relating to the health and wellbeing of your donkey, you should always consult a qualified vet.

Copyright 2017 Amy Swift

27 thoughts on “What Treats Can I Give My Donkeys?

  1. We try to provide enrichment with fallen branches or small trees to gnaw on. They also love pruned palm fronds (but I’m cautious with the species). They also get carrots and the only time they get a ginger biscuit is if they load onto the trailer when we do our fire season/trailer training 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Nic, that sounds great, your donkeys must be very happy. Yes, ginger biscuits are great for those big moments! I’m not sure about palm leaves – do you know what type of palm it is? I’m still researching the huge topic of what plants, shrubs, foods are safe for donkeys so watch this space…


      1. (Sorry for my rusted English 😉 ) So you are copy writer. It seems to be great and really interesting. And i’d like to write an article about your work, if you’re ok…

        Liked by 1 person

  2. We are taking care of our friends donkeys while she is out of town. We gave them each a Milk Bone Dog biscuit – are they safe for donkeys?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Joanne, thanks for your question. Milk Bone Dog Biscuits are not safe to feed donkeys. Treats, biscuits and most food made for dogs or cats contains meat products and is therefore not suitable for donkeys. I wouldn’t have thought you need to worry if you only gave them one each but don’t give them any more. Hopefully the article has some helpful suggestions for you. Best wishes and enjoy the donkeys! Amy.


  3. I know this was posted a while ago. I am new to mini Donkeys and was curious if its safe to offer them pumpkin with or without seeds and if organic canned pumpkin is ok. They have had a lick from when i have given it to our pigs. The only other treats we have offered is baby carrots and some apple wedges but in moderation about 2-3 of each 2xs a week. Would really like to know if the pumpkin is ok. Thank you for the well writte article. Lots of good ideas, especially the peppermint. When you offer them a tea is it decaffinated from bags, loose leave or just fresh/dried herbs steeped in water?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Melanie, thank you for posting. Pumpkin with or without seeds is safe for donkeys – just make sure you don’t give them the seeds packaged for planting (as these may contain harmful chemicals) and don’t feed too many as this may cause digestive problems or weight gain. Regarding your query about tea, I don’t think it matters whether it’s in bags or loose. Likewise, fresh or dried herbs in water is fine too, as long as they are safe herbs.

      You can find a more comprehensive list of Safe Plants for Donkeys here: https://donkeytime.org/2017/09/19/safe-plants-for-donkeys/.

      I hope that helps and best wishes to you and your donkeys! Amy


  4. With havin so much content do you ever run into any issues of
    plagorism or copyright infringement? My website has a lot of exclusive content I’ve either authored myself or outsourced but it appears a lot of it is popping
    it up all over the web without my authorization. Do you know any solutions to help stop content from being stolen? I’d definitely appreciate it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Angie, thank you for your comment. I can’t say I have had a problem with this, at least not that I know of! Have you marked your pages with a copyright note? And perhaps you could add an extra note on your pages, asking people to contact you if they would like to share your content, or instructing them how to credit you if they do (such as your name or website link). WordPress has published some info here: https://en.support.wordpress.com/prevent-content-theft/ and you can no doubt Google lots more. I suppose on the one hand it’s good that people want to share your content, but not good if they don’t acknowledge you, or ask your permission. Best of luck, Amy.


  5. Enjoyed reading this! Very helpful. I’m new to donkeys and I do believe I’ve gone over-board in the treat department. Only carrots and apples but after reading this, I have to cut WAY back.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Lynn, thank you for your comment (although I imagine your donkeys are not so enthusiastic)! I’m glad you enjoyed the article and found it helpful. Best wishes and feel free to send a photo – I can share it on the Donkey Wise Facebook page! Best wishes, Amy.


  6. We have two Jennets and they love black birch twigs cut into small bits. I am experimenting now with cutting and drying some for storage. I am hoping they retain the wintergreen scent they have when fresh. I might even try to market them. Treats for Donkeys and horses that the human can make tea with!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. My donkeys love roasted peanuts in the shell. It’s okay isn’t it? I haven’t anything that says it isn’t. They also eat acorns and all other parts of the oak tree.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Vanessa, thank you for your questions.

      Just to reiterate I am not an expert! For free, expert advice, I always recommend contacting The Donkey Sanctuary.

      For what it’s worth, I have read that acorns are poisonous to horses (and it usually follows that this would apply to donkeys too). According to XLVets: ‘This is because they contain toxic substances called Gallic Acid and Tannic Acid. These acids can cause liver, kidney and intestinal damage to horses eating acorns, oak leaves or branches.’

      With regards to peanuts, there seem to be differing opinions. I have read that there is some risk of colic and that peanut hulls can be contaminated with aflatoxins, which are poisonous to horses, so I would feed these very sparingly. Chunks of apple, carrot, turnip or swede (including skins and rinds) might be a safer option, and still no more than one or two chunks per day. Cutting carrots into 2″ strips and cutting apples into wedges is said to reduce the risk of choking.

      As always, it depends on the age and condition of your individual donkeys, so always seek professional advice if in doubt.

      Best wishes to you and your donkeys!


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