We love our horses, and we love giving them treats. It’s a fun way to reward them for all they do for us. But not all foods are safe for horses. What are some foods that horses can’t eat?
Avoid feeding the following foods to your horse.
Meat of any kind
Soda, coffee, or other drinks containing caffeine
Whole stone fruits such as peaches, plums, apricots or nectarines
Onions and garlic, leeks or shallots
Dog or cat food
Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli or cauliflower
Lawn or garden clippings
Each of these foods should not be fed to your horse. Let’s take a closer look at each one to learn how they can be harmful.
The foods listed below can be dangerous or toxic to your horse.
Stone fruits– Peaches, plums, apricots, and nectarines have large pits that can cause a choke hazard if fed whole.Any time you feed your horse fruit it should be done in small amounts. Feeding any fruit in large quantities should be avoided so as not to cause stomach upset.
Tomatoes– Tomatoes are part of the Solanaceae plant family and are members of the nightshade family of plants; the same family that contains deadly nightshade. While the tomatoes themselves are harmless in small doses, the leaves and stems of tomato plants can cause colic and other digestive issues.
Avocados– While the green flesh of an avocado is harmless, the pit poses a choking hazard, and the leaves and skin can be poisonous to horses and make them sick. It’s best to avoid feeding them all together.
Onions and garlic– Onions and garlic, shallots, leeks, and scallions are all members of the allium family. These foods should be avoided, as they can kill red blood cells due to the presence of the chemical N-propyl disulfide.
Potatoes– Potatoes are also members of the nightshade family and should be avoided. Potatoes that are still a bit green or rotten can also cause toxicosis. They also pose a choke hazard if they are fed whole.
Cruciferous vegetables– Vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and brussels sprouts can cause gas and stomach upset if eaten in large amounts.
Miscellaneous Human Food
- Chocolate– Just like you wouldn’t feed chocolate to your dog, you shouldn’t feed it to your horse, either. Chocolate contains caffeine and another chemical called theobromine that can cause your horse to colic or have digestive issues. It can also cause a positive result for the presence of substances if the horse is drug tested.
- Soda, coffee, or other drinks containing caffeine– Always avoid giving your horse caffeine. They don’t need the stimulant and it can cause irregular heart rhythm. Most of our horses don’t need the additional boost of energy either, and horses who have caffeine in their systems may not pass a drug test.
- Meat– Horses are herbivores. They have flat teeth and long digestive tracts that are designed to digest the roughage that comes from grazing and foraging for food. Some horses may enjoy or beg for a bite of whatever meat you may be eating, but they shouldn’t be fed meat. Their bodies are not designed to digest it properly. If your horse is begging for a bit of your cheeseburger, opt to give them a healthier treat instead.
- Dairy products– Horses are lactose intolerant, so avoid feeding dairy products. Their delicate digestive system is built for plant roughage and isn’t made for dairy products.
- Bread products– Bread products in large quantities can cause a horse to choke and can be difficult for them to digest. While a bite may not hurt them, bread products should generally be avoided.
Miscellaneous Pet Food
- Dog or cat food–Pet food made for dogs and cats contains meat by-products and food additives that are not good for horses. Avoid giving your horse dog or cat treats as well.
- Cattle feed– Cattle feed should also never be fed to horses. This is because cows have very different digestive systems than horses, and their feed is often lower in nutrients than horse feed. It also can contain additives that are fatal to horses.
- Alsike Clover– Alsike clover is toxic to horses whether they eat it in a pasture or it is cut into hay. Alsike clover grows up to 30 inches tall and has pink flowers. It grows in the northern parts of the US and Canada. Alsike clover can cause skin lesions and liver damage, and even can be fatal.
- Moldy hay– Fresh hay is a perfect alternative to being turned out when horses can’t be on fresh pasture grass all the time, but don’t feed your horse hay that is moldy or dusty. Feeding moldy or dusty hay may cause lung damage and colic.
- Lawn or garden clippings– Lawn clippings can cause a horse to become choked because they can eat the clippings much more quickly than when they are grazing normally. The clippings may also contain other garden plants that may be poisonous to horses. Avoid dumping your lawn and garden clippings into your horse’s pasture.
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The Dangers of Feeding Your Horse Human Food
There tend to be a lot of rules when it comes to feeding horses, but with good reason. We all love to feed our horses treats. We may think it’s cute when they “ask” for a bite of whatever we may be eating. A bite here or there is okay for most treats, but human food should only be given to horses in moderation.
Horse’s digestive systems are delicate and complex and are designed to digest roughage throughout the day. When we feed them lots of human food, we are risking colic or choke. Many foods that are okay for humans are toxic to horses.
The following chemicals found in human foods are not good for horses and should be avoided:
- Caffeine (trimethylxanthine)— Found in sodas, coffees, and chocolate. Caffeine can cause irregular heart rhythm or seizures.
- Theobromine— Found in chocolate; can cause colic, internal bleeding, and seizures.
- N-propyl disulfide— This compound is found in onions, garlic, and other members of the allium family. It can cause anemia by destroying red blood cells.
- Hyoscyamine— Found in tomatoes and other members of the Solanaceae plant family, this chemical increases a horse’s heart rate, can cause constipation, and decreases the amount of saliva horses produce.
- Cyanide compounds— Cyanide compounds are found in seeds of some fruits, such as apples, pears, and apricots. This compound is toxic in large quantities.
Giving occasional treats is certainly okay when they are the right treats. As horse owners we need to educate ourselves as to what treats are healthy for our horses so we can show them our appreciation and keep them safe at the same time.
What To Do If Your Horse Eats a Food They Should Not Have
If your horse accidentally eats something he or she should not have, don’t panic. First assess what they have eaten and call your veterinarian. Try to determine how much they have consumed, as the veterinarian will surely ask.
The vet may determine the horse needs to be seen, in which case he or she will determine the best treatment. There may be an antidote available for some toxins.
If you know what your horse has eaten, you can call the National Animal Poison Control Center hotline. The hotline can be reached by calling (888) 426-4435. You can call 24 hours a day for a small charge.
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Healthy Treat Alternatives for Your Horse
If you are looking to feed your horse treats that are healthy for them, there are a number of great alternatives. Here is a list of great options that your horse is sure to love:
Apples (without the seeds)
Pears (without the seeds)
All natural store-bought or homemade horse treats
Choosing the right fruits, vegetables, and treats in moderation is important. Treats should be fed in small amounts and should be similar to the foods they are already used to eating. This will help to not upset their delicate digestive systems.
Feeding our horses treats is a great way to reward them for all they do for us everyday. As responsible horse owners and caregivers, we need to ensure that the treats we are choosing to share with our equine friends are healthy and safe for them to enjoy.
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