Onotherapy: what it is and to whom it can be useful


Onotherapy is a form of pet therapy which has recently become very popular in Italy It is a therapeutic technique which is based on the contact and relationship between the human being and the donkey . The latter are used to help people in motor rehabilitation, socialization and the development of self-sufficiency. Donkeys can be especially useful for people with mobility impairments, as they are very docile and patient animals. Furthermore, thanks to their cheerful and joyful character, they are able to stimulate people’s socialization and help them regain self-confidence. 


Donkeys have a calm and relaxed temperament , which can help people reduce stress and tension. Donkeys are also very loving and will bond easily with people, creating a special relationship that can be beneficial for both parties.

Onotherapy advantages

Onotherapy has several advantages over other therapies. First of all, this technique is indicated for all those people who are unable to move due to trauma or illness. Furthermore, onotherapy is particularly effective in motor re -education and in the treatment of autism . Donkeys are in fact able to stimulate children to interact and communicate with others.

It is particularly suitable for children : in fact, contact with the donkeys stimulates socialization and promotes emotional development. This therapy may also be used in the treatment of adults suffering from pervasive autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or other neurodevelopmental issues such as social anxiety disorder or bipolar disorder .


Onotherapy benefits

As you can well imagine, onotherapy has numerous benefits. First of all, it improves the relationship between therapist and patient. In fact, the latter finds himself interacting with a living and sensitive being, which will help him relax and abandon himself to care. Furthermore, onotherapy is an excellent tool to stimulate children with attention deficit or autism.


Donkeys are very patient and have a great ability to concentrate. This makes them ideal for this type of therapy. Finally, onotherapy can also be useful in the rehabilitation of people who have suffered physical or psychological trauma . The effectiveness of these therapies has been demonstrated by several scientific studies. Furthermore, more and more patients are choosing to rely on these alternative treatments to treat their ailments.

The donkey is generous. He has no prejudices. For all those who, due to a handicap, an accident or  any shyness, are unable to master all their senses or their movements, the presence of the donkey has a relaxing effect. After a moment of observation, as with all those he meets, of any species, the donkey understands and lets himself be approached. His silence is an invitation. He has no a priori, no mindset or belief system. We are all equal in front of the donkey, and all our senses are equal.


Who can therapy be useful for?

Donkey therapy can have advantages in the following cases:

  • Physical and sensory disability
  • Down syndrome
  • Various forms of mental retardation
  • Autism and Asperger’s
  • heart disease and hypertension 
  • Mood disorders
  • Personality disorders
  • Attention deficit disorder (ADHD)
  • Eating problems and disorders
  • Learning Disabilities (ASD)
  • deaf and blind

How the therapy takes place

The initial stages of therapy are carried out by avoiding riding the donkey and focus mainly on approaching the animal and caring for the donkey . In doing so, patients are stimulated from a cognitive and motor point of view. Taking care of the animal, they must in fact concentrate to remember and coordinate their actions .

At the same time, this phase plays an important role in increasing the patients’ self -esteem , who begin to feel important and useful by understanding the importance of the task assigned to them. 


In a second phase, the activities begin to be carried out on the back of a donkey, possibly sleeping to favor direct contact with the animal. This is the most intense phase, in which emotions are stimulated and one works on the body and proprioception.

Comparison with other animals

Often there is a tendency to associate pet therapy with the horse, but in fact the donkey has a shorter neck than that of the horse, a rounder and heavier head, and shorter legs. In this way the donkey, being smaller than the horse but, at the same time, much larger than other pets such as dogs and cats, is able to welcome people in the best possible way, offering them safety and protection .

Furthermore, thanks to its size, the donkey allows for a whole series of ways in which physical contact can take place : it can simply be stroked or hugged from the ground, or it can be mounted in different ways. Among these, you can lean on your back by extending your arms forward, both with your legs on the ground and by lying down and keeping your legs raised, following the conformation of the animal’s body. 

Or you can ride astride the donkey by moving your body forward and embracing the animal’s neck or, conversely, lying down with your back on its back. This type of approach allows you to experience a deep interaction with the animal which causes a strong sense of relaxation, it also allows you to feel the heat of the animal on your body and to perceive the regular breathing rhythm of the donkey.

  • Onotherapy, the form of pet therapy with donkeys (


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