Donkeys - a unique and challenging endoparasite host

Endoparasites in donkeys are ubiquitous and may cause serious disease. All common helminth parasites that affect horses also infect donkeys, therefore donkeys that co-graze can act as a significant source of infection for either species. Whilst donkeys are prone to the same parasite species as horses infection characteristics and presenting signs and symptoms of disease may differ. Large strongyles and cyathostomins are common in donkeys worldwide with Strongylus vulgaris causing significant disease in donkeys with poor anthelmintic treatment history. Cyathostomins infect the majority of donkeys globally and may rarely cause cyathostominosis or colitis; however signs and symptoms of both can vary significantly from those displayed in affected horses. The significance of low level cyathostomin infection on the donkey host is unclear, many donkeys appear to thrive with high faecal egg counts (> 3000epg) and when the donkey is in general good health they may exist with high cyathostomin burdens with little impact on their overall health. The donkey is renowned as the reservoir host for the lungworm, Dictyocaulus arnfieldi. Mature horses are not permissive hosts to the full life cycle of this parasite, but develop clinical signs on infection. In contrast, donkeys are permissive hosts without displaying overt clinical signs and act as a source of infection to co-grazing horses. Donkeys are also susceptible to the flukes, Fasciola hepatica and Fasciola gigantica and may be an important reservoir host for both human and herbivore infections particularly in developing countries. Finally, Parascaris spp. infections in donkeys are common, however infection is not only associated with young, immuno-compromised animals as seen in horses. Parascaris spp. infection is a frequent finding in all age groups of donkeys. The inability of many donkeys to develop lifelong immunity to Parascaris poses problems when attempting to reduce transmission of this parasite in herds which include adult and young donkeys. Anthelmintic treatment is challenging as many anthelmintics are not licensed for use in this species; however dosing should follow best practice used in horses. Anthelmintic resistance is of particular concern in donkeys with recent reports of lack of efficacy of all anthelmintic classes in cyathostomins infecting donkeys. Control of parasites in donkeys must primarily focus on reducing the risk of infection, maintaining good health and targeting drug treatments carefully. Donkeys can be co-grazed safely with other species but careful monitoring and control should be practiced to ensure that donkeys do not act as reservoirs of infection to other, more susceptible animals. The importance of parasite infection, particularly co-infection with multiple species must be appreciated. Donkeys under stress due to malnourishment, infectious disease, overwork or neglect are at a high risk of disease related to parasite infection and consideration must be given to targeted treatments in such circumstances. Whilst the donkey remains a challenging parasite host following simple control measures and improving the overall welfare of the donkey will undoubtedly serve both the donkey and other species grazing alongside.

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