Burro vs Donkey – Is There a Difference?

Burro vs Donkey

Written by Rebecca Bales

Updated: October 10, 2023

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Donkey, burro, ass, jack, jenny, jennet – there are so many different terminologies associated with this sturdy pack animal. You may be wondering, “Was that donkey I saw or rode actually a burro?” Keep reading to learn the history of these similar animals, why distinct names developed, and how you can know which term to use.

Burro vs Donkey

The donkey (Equus asinus) is a domestic equine. It is descended from the African wild ass (Equus africanus).

What about burros? It might be said that all burros are donkeys but not all donkeys are burros. How are they similar? How are they different? Much of the difference is simply a question of semantics – what language are you speaking, and what region of the world are you in?

Beyond language and geography, there are a few characteristics that may distinguish burros from other breeds. While still standard in size, burros are typically on the smaller end of the standard height range. Also, donkeys come in many colors and patterns, but burros are typically grey-brown with a dark stripe down their backs.

Comparing Burros vs. Donkeys

Which terminology should you use – donkey or burro? Consider the following.

Donkey Burro
Language EnglishSpanish or Portuguese
Distribution WorldwideSouthwestern North America, South and Central America, Spain
Size 36 to 48 inches at the shoulderSlightly smaller
Fur VariableLong hair, gray or brown coloration

Next, let’s consider each of these aspects in more detail.

The 4 Key Differences Between Donkeys and Burros

All burros are donkeys, but not all donkeys are burros. When deciding which term to use, consider the language spoke, the geographic region, and a few physical factors that make a donkey qualify as a burro.

A donkey is a domesticated animal that has the name Equus Asinus. A burro is often referred to as a wild donkey that was originally from Mexico and brought into the United States. A female donkey is known as a Hinny and a male donkey is known as a Jack.

Here are some key differences between the two:

Donkey vs Burro: Language

In Spanish, burro is the word for donkey. Therefore, if you are in a Spanish-speaking country, all of these animals will be called “burros,” regardless of other traits. The term burro may also be used in a similar language, Portuguese. But in Portuguese, “burro” actually means “stupid,” a trait often falsely applied to donkeys due to their stubborn nature.

In English, all types of donkeys are generally referred to as “donkeys,” though the term burro may be popular in some areas. And this brings us to our next consideration – geography.


Where does the donkey in question live? This can play a role in whether it is called a donkey or a burro. Since “burro” is the Spanish word for donkeys, donkeys in Spain, Mexico, South, and Central America will almost always be referred to as burros, regardless of size. This is also the case in the Southwestern United States.


Size is one of the physical traits that set burros apart from other donkeys. The shoulder height of a standard donkey ranges from 36 inches to 48 inches. Burros are a shorter donkey breed. While still standard – at least 36 inches in height – they tend to occupy the lower half of this size range. This may be due to the harsh, dry environment of southwestern North America.

Fur – Length and Color

There are many breeds of donkeys with different appearances. The most common is grey-brown with a dark stripe down the back or cross across the shoulders. Others may be solid white, solid black, black, or chocolate brown with white markings, or light with dark spots.

Burros, on the other hand, typically display the most common coloration – grey-brown with a dark stripe or cross.

The fur texture also varies among donkey breeds. While not a rule, burros typically have longer, shaggier hair than other breeds.

Bonus: Donkeys are Great Guard Animals for Livestock

Donkey Teeth - Donkey with Mouth Open

Donkeys are not known for being aggressive but they can be if threatened by a predator.


Have you ever heard of a guard donkey? Although not employed for this purpose as often as dogs – donkeys can offer the perfect protection for your herd of goats or sheep! They are an alert grazing animal that will happily eat the same grasses that sheep and goats enjoy. Donkeys are socialable enough to like the company of their smaller friends and will fiercely protect their territory.

Guard donkeys should be standard-size or larger because mini versions would be as vulnerable to predators as the animals they would be protecting. Females and gelded males are best because intact males may be aggressive toward the livestock and much more difficult to handle.

Age should also be considered when choosing a donkey as a guard animal. Young donkeys may try to play with their livestock companions and be less able to offer protection. Three-year-old donkeys have settled down enough to take the guard job seriously and to bond with its barnyard friends.

While donkeys aren’t protective they do react to threats in their territory and can view themselves as a maternal figure to their pasture mates. The smaller livestock often see their donkey as a mother figure and gather around her if threatened. Donkeys can offer protection against single dogs, foxes, coyotes and bobcats. They are very aggressive if forced to attack – using their teeth and hooves while braying loudly to attempt to scare away the predator. Donkeys should be allowed time to calm down after an attack before approached. It won’t take them too long to return to their naturally friendly states.

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About the Author

Rebecca is an experienced Professional Freelancer with nearly a decade of expertise in writing SEO Content, Digital Illustrations, and Graphic Design. When not engrossed in her creative endeavors, Rebecca dedicates her time to cycling and filming her nature adventures. When not focused on her passion for creating and crafting optimized materials, she harbors a deep fascination and love for cats, jumping spiders, and pet rats.

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