If you are around horses you probably love giving them treats. Treats are a way to show affection, to encourage bonding with your horse, and can be useful when training your horse to do specific tasks. A question a lot of people have is – can horses eat chocolate?
As delicious as chocolate is, unfortunately it is not a good treat to give horses. Chocolate contains caffeine and theobromine, which are bad for your horse’s health. Too much chocolate can even be deadly. There are much healthier treats to give your horse that won’t have the concerning side effects that chocolate does.
Can Horses Eat Chocolate?
You probably already know that dogs cannot eat chocolate. A common question riders ask when picking out treats for horses is – can horses eat chocolate? The short answer is no. Chocolate is not a good treat to give horses. Humans and animals digest and process foods differently. What may be a common food for humans to eat could have devastating consequences on animals. Chocolate is one of these foods.
Besides containing a lot of refined sugar, chocolate has two main chemicals that cause serious harm to horses, caffeine and theobromine. These two chemicals can cause a long list of health issues for your horses, and can even be deadly if fed too much.
Horses used for showing and racing also commonly get drug tested. Chocolate can cause competition horses and racehorses to fail their drug tests due to caffeine and theobromine. Both of these chemicals are considered performance enhancing and are banned under most competition and racing organizations. When choosing treats to give your horse, whether you compete or not, steer clear of chocolate!
What Makes Chocolate Bad for Horses?
In addition to having a lot of refined sugar, chocolate contains caffeine and theobromine. These chemicals occur naturally in chocolate and are the ingredients that cause the most concern. When asking, “Can horses eat chocolate?” these chemicals are the main reason the answer is “No!”. Let’s take a deeper look at the negative effects these chemicals can have on a horse:
Caffeine is a stimulant. It causes your heart rate and blood pressure to increase. These can have dangerous effects on a horse’s heart, especially if they have an underlying heart condition. Too much caffeine is also bad for the digestive system. It may cause your horse to have diarrhea or trigger gastric bleeding in horses that have ulcers. Caffeine can also cause horses to become hyper and exhibit undesirable behavior.
If you compete with your horse, be careful what you give as treats. Stimulants such as caffeine are banned for competition horses. If your horse may be drug tested, avoid giving him anything that is considered a stimulant. Even small amounts of chocolate may be enough to cause a horse’s drug test to be positive for caffeine.
For horses, the worst ingredient in chocolate is theobromine. Horses and humans have different digestive systems. Humans can property digest theobromine but horses cannot. If you feed your horse chocolate, the theobromine stays in their system and will build up over time. Too much theobromine in a horse can cause internal bleeding, colic, seizures, and heart attacks. In excessive amounts theobromine can be deadly. When you ask, “Can horses eat chocolate?”, this is a big reason the answer is no.
Theobromine is also considered a performance enhancing drug and could cause a horse to fail a drug test for competition purposes. Again, giving your horse even small amounts of chocolate could cause your horse to test positive for performance enhancing drugs, effectively eliminating you for the competition.
What are Good Treats to Give Horses?
Fruits for Horses
There are a lot of foods that make great horse treats. For an easy, healthy horse treat consider giving your horse fruit. Horses can eat most fruits. To reduce the risk of choking, slice the fruit into small bite sized pieces before giving them to your horse.
Some common fruits that most horses enjoy are:
Homemade Treats for Horses
You can also buy horse treats from your local feed store or online. Many small businesses sell gourmet horse cookies. Gourmet cookies are fun to give as an occasional treat and they make a great gift for someone you know that has horses. Horse treats can also be bought in bulk. 20 pound bags of treats are a more economical option if you have multiple horses or a community treat bin at your stable.
If you enjoy spending time in the kitchen you can even make your own horse treats. Most recipes for homemade horse treats use oats and molasses as the base ingredients. Homemade horse treats can be baked or rolled into balls and refrigerated.
You can make your homemade horse treats even more special by adding in other horse-safe foods such as:
- Bits of carrot or apple
- Diced sweet potato
- Peanut butter
- Ground flax seed
Sugar Cubes + Peppermint Candies
Horses also like sugar cubes and peppermint candies. More than a few horsemen are guilty of pocketing an extra peppermint when leaving a restaurant. Buying a box of candy canes when they go on clearance after the holidays is also common. These are safe to give most horses in small amounts. Sugar cubes and peppermints contain refined sugar so they should not be given to horses that have certain conditions. Ask your veterinarian what treats are safe to give if your horse has a history of:
- Cushing’s Disease
- Insulin Resistance (IR)
- Polysaccharide Storage Myopathy (PSSM)
- Gastric Ulcers
When looking for treats to give horses you may ask yourself – can horses eat chocolate? Now you know the answer is no, chocolate is not a safe treat to give a horse.
The dangerous effects that caffeine and theobromine can have on a horse means that chocolate is not a good treat to give them. Chocolate can also cause competition horses to fail a drug test. There are a lot of other treats, like most fruits or homemade horse cookies, that your horse can enjoy without the negative effects of chocolate.
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