Do Donkeys Laugh At Funny Things?

December 8, 2022
Do Donkeys Laugh?

We see it all over – a picture of a laughing donkey with a quirky quote circling the internet or your socials and some making your day. The community makes donkeys out to be stubborn with a smile and a laughing sound. It might look like donkeys laugh and even sounds like it when you see it for real, but do donkeys laugh?

Two donkeys standing together.

Donkeys curl up their upper lips and stick out their teeth that might look like they are laughing but are not. In conjunction with a “heehaw” sound, the curved lip is a donkey’s defense mechanism against predators. They also display the Flehmen’s response as a means to smell things better.

There are many reasons a donkey might be “laughing,” but none of these connect to the laughter of happiness persé. Many idiomatic phrases exist relating to a donkey’s laugh, but donkeys are more serious than they ought to portray.

Can Donkeys Actually Laugh?

With humans and their imaginations, donkeys most definitely can laugh, but is it for real? No. They portray a facial expression correlating to laughing, partnered with a sound called bray, which might lead anyone to believe they are laughing.

The reality is that they are not even close to laughing, and reading the situation wrong, might lead you into dangerous territory if you are face-to-face with this so-called “laughing donkey.” There are reasons for them curling over their lips and sticking out their teeth, making their “heehaw” sound. It might not be harmful in some instances, but you better stay away from others.

Reasons Donkeys Have A Smiling Face

Two donkeys in field.
Donkeys on Field

Donkeys are one of those animals that hide their feelings pretty well. It is hard to read them, and the best way to get to know your donkey is by spending time with them and training with them. Amateur donkey owners might think a donkey is portraying affection when they show their teeth, but there are many other reasons behind this behavior, except the one they believe.

The smiling and laughing people refer to are the Flehmen response (the face of smiling) and the braying (heehaw sound). Each response, on their own and together, can carry different meanings depending on the donkey’s situation or what they need in that instance.

1. Donkeys Smile To Smell Better

The number one reason donkey’s have this lifted neck, lip back, the teeth-showing face is to better their smelling sense. This face a donkey pulls is called the Flehmen’s reaction. They respond this way when they smell something new, strange, or strong.

They have a smell organ situated on the roof of their mouth, called the vomeronasal organ, helping them to enhance a scent they are experiencing. When donkeys lift their lip like this, they get the smell into their olfactory system better and can decipher what the smell might be. Thus, your strong perfume might be why a donkey is smiling at you.

Research shows that donkeys can smell feces and determine an animal’s gender and hormonal status. This incredible sense allows them to literally “sniff out” their opponents and know what to expect.

When they combine this Flehmen’s response with the sound “heehaw,” known as braying, they enhance the smell, as the braying works in conjunction with their breathing. The “hee” is for breathing in, and the “haw” is for breathing out.

Donkeys do not do this for everything they smell, only for new and exciting smells they want to identify. They can smell 30 times better than humans when using their enhanced sense.

2. Donkeys Laugh At Predators

Another reason a donkey will pull back their upper lip, show teeth, and bray is to warn those around them that there is danger. The sound will warn any other donkeys or humans close by that there is an intrusion, and they must come quickly.

The braying sound will be more urgent, and the “heehaw” will be shorter to start a new one immediately. This urgent cry is a defense mechanism to scare predators like foxes, wolves, and coyotes away and alarm others nearby. This bray can travel miles, and each donkey has a unique braying sound.

3. Donkeys Laugh To Communicate

When donkeys bray and Flehmen, it is to communicate with other donkeys and take control of their territory. The braying also comes into play when they want to portray their dominance over another male. They also bray at other males when they want to chase them away from a female counterpart.

4. Donkeys Laugh When Hungry

Like a child calling out when they are hungry, a donkey will bray to let you in on its need for food. They need food twice and up to three times daily and will surely remind you if you forget. Therefore, it would be best to stick to a feeding routine. This way, they will know when to expect food and won’t feel the need to call for it.

5. Donkeys Laugh During Discomfort

Sometimes when feeling uncomfortable or in pain, donkeys might bray. It doesn’t always happen in these settings, but it can happen. Thus, when they are sick, or a jenny is in labor or receiving treatment, that might be uncomfortable and cause them to bray.

6. Donkeys Bray When Lonely

Donkeys won’t mind being alone but don’t like it. They love socializing and are happiest when they can be with other donkeys. When they are lonely, they might bray more as a cry to a friend or wanting love. They can get along with any other animals like horses or goats or whichever animals you want to keep with them.

Donkeys form friendships with other animals or humans, and although they don’t show their emotions that quickly, they will show their affections in their ways. For example, research has shown that the heartbeat of a donkey can synchronize with a human’s heart and even calm it down, which tells us that they love companionship.

Minimizing A Donkey’s Laughing Brays

Although some might find it amusing in photos or videos, and maybe once or twice in real life, the donkey’s braying can soon become annoying. Although you cannot inhibit a donkey from braying, you can set some things in place to reduce the braying.

  • Adding motion detection lights will keep predators away and minimize the times a predator alarms your donkey to bray.
  • If you only keep one donkey, opt for a jenny (female donkey) as the jacks (male donkey) tend to bray more.
  • Donkeys do not want to be alone. Keeping two or more together will minimize the braying as they won’t feel like calling for a partner.
  • Stick to a strict feeding schedule, so your donkey knows when it is time for eating and won’t feel the need to bray to call for food.

Other Sounds Donkeys Make

Do donkeys laugh? This donkey looking over the fence seems to be laughing.

Braying is only one of the many sounds you will hear from a donkey’s mouth. In addition to braying, they have five other sounds. Growling, grunting, squealing, and whufflingare the different sounds you can expect from a donkey.

When a donkey snorts, it is mainly accompanied by flared nostrils and a sign that they want to be left alone. You do not want to approach a donkey that snorts, especially if you do not know it.

A Donkey’s Behavior Relating To Braying

A donkey is a complex animal to understand. People label them stubborn, but they only seem determined because people do not always understand donkeys and their behavior. Braying might have some definite meanings but can be accompanied by other behavioral traits, telling you what is going on with your donkey.

Horses show their feelings easier than donkeys, and with a donkey, you might have to spend more time analyzing their behavior to understand them. For example, they might widen their eyes and bray or Flehmen, and you might believe they are curious, but instead, they are stressed or scared.

Another body language most people misread is when a donkey faces a predator, doesn’t move, and starts to smile and bray, it might look like they are courageous but only have a slower fight-or-flight response.

If you get to know your donkey, you will quickly pick up changes in their behavior and will be able to identify the problem sooner. But, on the other hand, maybe there is no problem, and if they are happier, you will know this too.

Other Animals That Actually Laugh

A donkey might not make a laughing sound in context, but some animals laugh in a fun, playful situation. You might have heard it, or you can add it to your wish list to hear all these animals laugh.

Dolphins laugh when they play with their counterparts; this is the only time they exhibit this specific laughing sound that combines whistling and pulsing sounds.

Elephants also portray laughing. They are intelligent animals, form outstanding bonds, and have fantastic memory. With this comes the laughing sound and trumpeting they show when having a good time.

Research has discovered that rats laugh. They squeal in pleasure when playing with each other and in the company of other happy rats.

Chimpanzees and other monkey species love laughing. It sounds a bit different than human laughing and mimics a hyperventilating sound with inhaling and exhaling sounds following each other. They tickle each other, and interestingly, Gorillas can tell jokes. For example, a gorilla named Toto knew 1000 sign language signs and made inside jokes – intelligent species, those cuddly gorillas.

The Degu is a type of guinea pig rodent found in Chile. They have 15 different sounds, one of which is a high-pitched grumble they emit when playing or in a happy environment. They are highly sociable creatures and the cutest of all – they giggle in their sleep.


Unfortunately, donkeys don’t laugh, but they are very affectionate animals, and they are incredible animals that get along with humans or other animals like horses and make great livestock guardians. So, you can keep imagining your donkey laughing at your silly jokes or lovable strokes, but you now know to look out for anything that might bother them.



I'm Bo, the owner of Smarter Horse. Helping horses be smarter by educating their people.  To find out more about me, click here

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