Recognition of emotion and pain by owners benefits the welfare of donkeys in a challenging working environment

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Original languageEnglish
Article numbere15747
Number of pages12
Journal / PublicationPeerJ
Online published8 Aug 2023
Publication statusPublished - 2023



Working donkeys (Equus asinus) support human living standards globally. However, there is little information on the effect of human perceptions of emotion and pain on the welfare of working donkeys. We interviewed donkey owners (n = 332) in Pakistan to determine the relationship between human perspectives on donkey sentience: emotions and the ability to feel pain, and the routine working practices that could impact donkey welfare. The majority of donkey owners used padding under the saddle [n=211; 63.6%; 95% CI (58.3% - 68.9 %)] and provided access to food [n=213; 64.2%; 95% CI (58.9% - 69.3%)] and water (n=195; 58.7%; 95% CI (53.4% - 64.1%)] during the working day. Owners reported that at some point in their donkey’s life, 65.3% (95% CI 60.2% - 70.5%) had load-associated injuries, of which 27.7% (n=92; 95% CI 22.8% - 32.5%) were wounds, 20.5% (n=68; 95% CI 16.1% - 24.8%) were lameness and 7.2% (n=24; 95% CI 4.4% - 10.0%) were back pain. In total, 81.3% (95% CI 77.1% - 85.5%; n=270) of owners believed that their donkeys felt pain, and 70.2% (95% CI 65.2% - 75.1%; n= 233) of owners believed that their donkeys had emotions. Multiple correspondence analysis (MCA) was used to understand the relationship between owners’ recognition of emotions and pain in donkeys and their working practices. The MCA factor map revealed two clusters, named positive and negative clusters. The positive cluster included owner’s recognition of donkey pain and emotions, the availability of food and water, use of padding under the saddle, absence of injuries along with the willingness to follow loading guidelines. The negative cluster represented practices that did not benefit donkey welfare, such as using saddles without padding and a lack of food and water during work. The presence of injuries, owners not recognizing that donkeys feel pain and emotion along with an unwillingness to follow loading guidelines were also found in the negative cluster. We show that the owners who recognized sentience in their donkeys were more likely to use practices that are good for donkey welfare. The ability of owners to identify sentience in donkeys, along with their willingness to follow welfare guidelines, are important factors in improving the lives of working donkeys. © 2023 Bukhari et al.

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