Veterinarians need to understand the differences of donkeys and mules versus horses. Amy Mclean, PhD, an Assistant Professor of Teaching at the University of California, Davis, College of Veterinary Medicine, spoke about approaching and treating donkeys and mules at the 2021 AAEP Convention.
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Greet Them Head-On
Mclean said veterinarians need to understand that donkeys are more “accepting” to approach and handling than are mules. “Mules are not as welcoming,” she stated. “The face-on approach is best and is proven by research.” She added that donkeys are more curious and mules are more cautious.
McLean advised that veterinarians to greet a donkey or mule by walking up face-to-face and extending a hand. She advised that you let the mule, especially, reach out to you. Then rub up the mule’s head to its forehead before you attempt to get to its side. “It’s okay to use feed or treats to motivate interaction,” said Mclean. “Mules are not as push for food rewards as a horse is.”
Mclean stressed that veterinarians need to pay attention to a mule’s body language. “Watch the tail,” she said. “They swish their tail similar to a cat when they are upset. Ears might be pinned and the head and neck turned away.
“Have a ‘conversation” and give a treat,” she advised. “Mules have a long memory, so you need to win the mule’s heart with a calm voice. Your interaction needs to be a positive experience.”
A donkey’s natural reaction is to freeze and fight, she warned. Mclean also said there is some “gender bias” with mules based on who they are used to.
Mclean recommended that veterinarians get a copy of “Diseases of Donkeys and Mules, An Issue of Veterinary Clinics of North America: Equine Practice.”
Mules and donkeys are very stoic, so it can be hard to tell normal versus abnormal behavior or even if they are in pain, said Mclean.
“It’s hard to determine pain, but they are expressive with blinking and tail swishing to show they are uncomfortable,” said Mclean.
She added that lameness exams are harder on mules than in horses because they won’t show pain as readily.
“Remember donkeys and mules might not show a lot of clinical signs until they are really bad,” said Mclean.
Restraining and sedating mules and donkeys is not the same as with horses, stated Mclean. If you need sedation for a dental or eye exam, expect to use more than you would for a horse of the same body weight.
“I like detomidine,” she said. “Depending on how excited the mule is, mules are susceptible to zylazine and dormosedan.”
She said twitches work well on mules.
“If you need to give a NSAID, read up on the appropriate doseas for mules and donkeys because they metabolize them quicker,” she said.
About Dr. Amy Mclean
Mclean received her BS in Animal Science with an equine emphasis at the University of Georgia. She received her Masters from the University of Georgia and her PhD from Michigan State University. Her research interests include improving equine management, behavior and welfare with a specific interest in donkeys, mules, hinnies and working equids in developing countries.
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