The definition used for a 'geriatric' donkey is one that is over 20 years old. Many donkeys living as companions, rather than feral or working individuals, will live far beyond this age and have a long, fulfilling life. They deserve special care.
This most stoic of species represents a challenge for the clinician even though many problems faced by the geriatric donkey are similar to those seen in horses and ponies. The mixture of lifestyle, lack of monetary value and stoicism, often compounded by the lack of vigilant management experienced by many donkeys, frequently result in the occurrence of significant unrecognised disease. The geriatric donkey tends to 'suffer in silence'. Poor body condition may be veiled beneath the thick coat and common pathologies such as foot, dental, respiratory and liver disease and insulin dysregulation often go unnoticed or undiagnosed in the non-athletic individual.
An important consideration when deciding on treatment or control will be the quality of life of the donkey, both at the time of presentation and going forward. Unrecognised disease, or even controlled recognised conditions, may lead to pain and distress. Unremitting pain, anxiety or chronic discomfort will inevitably impair the donkey's quality of life. Euthanasia should be seen as a positive tool in the veterinarian's 'welfare kit' and may be the best outcome for a geriatric donkey in chronic discomfort or one that an owner is no longer able to keep.
This chapter concentrates on conditions commonly seen as a result of longevity and lifestyle. Other conditions which cannot be ruled out of the differential diagnosis can be found in other chapters.