Bob Judd, DVM, DABVP (Equine Medicine), DABVP (Canine and Feline Practice)
Laminitis is a severe foot disease in horses and can also affect donkeys, although the causes of the syndrome may be different between the species. Veterinary opinions vary on whether donkeys can develop the syndrome.
Horses develop laminitis because they are overweight and eat a diet high in carbohydrates. In the publication, The Horse Dr. Nicola Menzies-Gow, Diplomate of the European College of Equine Internal Medicine in England, states that donkeys affected by laminitis are younger than horses affected, and are not always overweight, don't eat too many carbohydrates, or have other health problems.
Researchers found that nearly 50% of the donkeys studied developed at least one episode of laminitis compared to 34% of horses and ponies. Forty percent of the donkeys had at least one recurring episode, and most of the donkeys had chronic, rather than acute, laminitis.
Laminitis involves inflammation of the structures in the hoof wall that hold the bone in place. Inflammation of the laminae is extremely painful. Cushing’s disease in donkeys can contribute to the development of laminitis as it can in horses.
While most horses develop the disease in the spring due to ingesting spring grass, most cases in donkeys in England occurred in the winter from October to February when the animals were coming off pasture and into stalls. It is believed laminitis may be related to the environment of walking on concrete in a barn, and the lameness was simply more noticeable on concrete versus out on the pasture.
Regardless, laminitis may develop in donkeys with or without the usual influencing factors noted in horses.