Why Do Donkeys Dig Holes? (Explained)

by Kloee Ngozi
Updated on

Have you ever seen donkeys scabbing around in the ground and wondered why they do it?

Donkeys gig when they are bored or when they are looking for roots. Wild donkeys also have a penchant for digging wells in the desert.

Understanding donkey behavior is an important factor in keeping donkeys as pets. Donkeys have a different behavior and temperament from horses despite their similarities.

Today we will discuss the reasons why a donkey can dig a hole in the ground and we will also discuss pawing diseases in donkeys, signs and symptoms and how to effectively treat it.

What Are The Reasons Donkeys Dig Holes In The Ground

Why Do Donkeys Dig Holes

1. Donkeys dig looking for roots

Donkeys like chewing on wood and roots. If they are in a dry area or grassland with drier pasture, they can dig about on the ground to uproot plant roots and chew on them.

It is a behavior that has been reported and observed by donkey owners.

2. Dig when they are bored 

Donkeys are social animals and when they are bored they can dig pastures around them to alleviate the boredom.

Donkey owners have reported their donkeys digging holes and well like spaces in their farmstead.

The behavior can be mildly irritating and annoying for the owners as the donkey wears out his hooves fasters.

It is also easy for stones and mud to get lodged in the donkey’s hooves.

To reduce the donkey’s hooves, it is better to always buy a pair or mix the donkeys with other animals.

Related: Here is an article I wrote on how to take good care of your donkeys

3. Dig for water in the desert

Wild donkeys regularly dig wells all over the desert to get water.

This has helped the wildlife and ecosystem in the desert as various species of animals are able to come to those holes and drink water.

The wells dug by the desert donkeys have been likened to the Elephant watering holes in Africa and this has been reported to help the ecosystem greatly. 

4. To alleviate a sore back 

Donkeys also dig around as a form of exercise to alleviate discomfort in their back side.

The downward pushing motion helps to stretch the back muscles and reduce the soreness.

This is also another donkey behavior that donkey owners have reported.

Wild donkeys are especially known for digging holes and even though researchers have expressed concerns about the effect of this activity on the environment, it has turned out to be a bl

What Is Pawing Disease In Donkeys?

Pawing in donkeys is most likely an effect of colic in your donkey.

Colic is experienced when your donkey is feeling pain in the gastrointestinal tract or other organs of the donkey. It could be abdominal pain or pain in the bladder or kidneys.

Colic comes in different forms depending on the area affected and some of them include:

  • Blockage: the donkey experiences a blockage of the intestine. This can come from undigested food, worms or even foreign indigestible products like plastic bags.
  • Spasmodic colic: this happens when the donkey experiences muscle spasm in the wall of the intestine.
  • Gassy colic: Gassy colic usually comes from a build up of gas in your donkey’s abdomen.
  • Torsion: torsion is a more painful type of colic also known as twisted gut. Some parts of the intestine are twisted and this could cause serious discomfort for the donkey.
  • Colic could also come from painful abdominal conditions such as abdominal tumors, stomach ulcers and pancreatitis.

Pawing is a symptom of colic accompanied with other behavior and once you notice this, ensure you seek immediate veterinary attention for your donkey as colic can be fatal.

Also check out this article I wrote on the benefits of taking care of your donkeys’ hooves

What Are The Symptoms And Causes?

Based on reports and research about colic in donkeys one of the common symptoms of colic in donkeys is dullness.

Donkeys are quite good at hiding their pain and you might not easily notice their discomfort.

Some early signs and symptoms you can watch out for include:

  • The first sign of colic is usually dullness in the donkey.
  • A donkey with colic will have a loss of appetite and might refuse to eat
  • Self isolation from friends. This is a problem as donkeys are naturally social animals.
  • Rolling on the ground and pawing. This is not a behavior commonly seen in donkeys and therefore immediate care should be taken once this is noticed.
  • The donkey also sweats excessively. Check the coat to see if its’ uncharacteristically wet. 
  • Faster breathing and heart rate.
  • The donkeys’ droppings are reduced in volume
  • Red or very pale gums and within the eyelids are signs of colic in the donkey
  • Dry gums 

If you groom and check your donkey daily, you might notice these signs early on and it is important to get your donkey medical attention as soon as you notice this. Colic when not resolved can end up being fatal.

How Do You Treat This In Donkeys?

The first thing to know when you observe these signs and symptoms in your donkey is to call your veterinarian who will determine the type of colic it is before recommending a course of treatment.

Your vet will do one or all of the following to determine the type of colic:

  • Checking the donkeys’ heart rate and also the temperature
  • The vet can also check your donkeys’ teeth for dry gums
  • Using a stethoscope on your abdomen. This is to listen for gut sounds
  • The vet can also carry out a rectal examination 
  • Most likey, the vet will take a blood sample from the horse
  • Also checking for food blockage by passing a stomach tube through your donkey.

The vet will make the diagnosis and prescribe a form of treatment for your donkey which must be strictly followed. Depending on the type of colic, your vet might give pain meds, pass fluids to the donkey, or suggest hospitalization and in more severe cases surgery for the donkey.

How Do You Prevent Excessive Pawing?

Colic can get so bad in your donkey that it leads to death or euthanasia.

Prevention is always better than cure and there are different ways to ensure your donkey doesn’t get pawing disease or colic. 

Typically checking your donkey everyday is a way to prevent dung. Monitor its heart rate and temperature daily.

Check its faeces everyday to see if there are any changes i.e. you should know what the normal droppings look like.

Donkeys have delicate systems when it comes to food so if there are any dietary changes, introduce it to them over a period of time and not at once.

Trickle feed them, that is, do not feed them too much food at once to avoid blockage. 

Also ensure that they don’t overeat fresh grass because of its high sugar content. Your donkey’s feed should be high quality and should not be mouldy.

When properly managed it is possible for your donkey not to develop colic and save you both a lot of stress and discomfort.


Understanding donkey behavior as a donkey owner can be hard especially if you’re a new donkey owner.

When your donkey is digging holes on your pasture, it most likely is over energetic and bored and you can provide a companion.

Always watch your donkeys health to avoid debilitating conditions like pawing disease.

Regular checking and monitoring will prevent any condition as you are able to discover the symptoms early.

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About the author

Kloee Ngozi

Kloee is a backyard farmer and avid gardener who enjoys tending to her garden and plants. She is so engrossed with her plants that she has pet names for all of them. She likes to relax with a bottle of wine and read a book.


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