27 January 2023

There is an equivalent of the proverb ‘Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth’ in many languages, and for good reason. Horses and donkeys’ age can be determined by their teeth and it would be rude to immediately examine your present in front of the person who gifted it to you.

Another aspect to the saying that is probably lost in time is that members of the Equus genus, such as horses and donkeys, often experience problems with their teeth. In the old days, when those were animals of labour, our ancestors knew the chances of hidden issues in the animals’ mouths were high. Thus the saying was born and the metaphor took off.

At The Donkey Valley Sanctuary, we pride ourselves on the holistic care we give to our rescue animals. In 2022, you could read several examples of donkeys with dental problems (Kemal teeth). But what you may not know is HOW our veterinarians have expanded their expertise in the field of equine dental care. Dental care is a specialized area of veterinary medicine and competent, experienced specialists are not easy to find. It was not until 2021 that the Covid pandemic allowed a Swiss dentist to visit and share her expertise with our veterinarians in Bulgaria. While our donkeys continued to receive dental care, we very much hoped that 2021 would be more fortunate for them and for our own veterinarians who wanted to expand their expertise and learn.

In the space of a week in August 2021, Johanna Probst and her assistant were finally able to visit Donkey Valley. We are very grateful to Johanna, who is always busy with her job, for the time she spent with us. Thirty donkeys were selected for treatment and all vets had the opportunity to learn and broaden their experience regarding dental floating.

(‘Floating’ is the removal of sharp points from the cheek side of the donkeys’ upper teeth and from the tongue side of the lower teeth.)

Thanks to the good equipment provided by our donors that we have at our disposal, and the equipment Johanna brought with her, we were able to do our job perfectly. Together we did a close examination of each donkey. We discussed the particulars of every case and the best course of action. Two working stations were set up where our Valley dentists shared work with Johanna, benefitting from her constant supervision.

The donkeys are always taken good care of when undergoing dental treatment. They are under anesthesia and observed for any kind of pain, and their eyes are covered to keep them calm. The procedure itself takes time but donkeys are patient animals and the benefits they receive immensely outweigh any mild discomfort they might experience. Good teeth are essential for the way a donkey feeds and improper balance in the mouth could lead to a number of health issues, eventually even to a fatal outcome.

The animals responded very well to the treatment and our days went by quickly, efficiently, in an atmosphere of camaraderie. Everyone was very happy with the result and before the visit was over, we had already begun making plans for the next dental check.

Now everyone can look our donkeys in the mouth as much as they would like – and they have always felt like a gift to us anyway.

Thanks to this know-how transfer, our veterinarians were able to treat the teeth of the donkeys living in the valley themselves. We presented a few examples in our 2022 newsletter.
Without donors, all this work in the valley would not be possible and hundreds of donkeys would continue to suffer as they did before the intervention of our teams. Thank you to all the donors who trust The Vets in Action.