Donkeys are less able than horses to adapt to cold, wetter climates, say researchers.
The study, which is a collaboration between The Donkey Sanctuary, Canterbury Christ Church University and the University of Portsmouth, shows that donkeys, and to a lesser extent mules, require additional protection in the winter to meet their welfare needs.
Published in the Equine Veterinary Journal, the study aims to provide the first scientific assessment of the extent to which donkeys require protection from the elements across the range of environmental conditions typically experienced in the British Isles.
The research indicated that donkeys’ coats do not change significantly across the seasons and that their coats were significantly lighter, shorter and thinner than that of horses and mules in winter.
In contrast the coats of horses and ponies changed significantly between seasons, growing much thicker in winter.
Dr Faith Burden from The Donkey Sanctuary said: “For many years, it has been the ‘common sense’ advice given by The Donkey Sanctuary to ensure that donkeys and mules are given the right protection from our cold winters.
"This study now provides us with scientific evidence to show why the welfare needs of donkeys and mules differ slightly to those of horses and ponies, and how we can act to give them better protection from the elements.”
Further publications from the project are planned, looking at heat loss and the behavioural responses of donkeys and horses to different weather conditions.