9 Foods You Should Never Feed to Your Horse

As horse owners, it’s our responsibility to ensure that we provide our horses with high-quality hay or feeds to keep them healthy. You also need to make sure that you’re promoting a constant food supply by using a slow feed hay net and following other necessary rules to keep them in their best shape.

Horse eating in a GutzBusta Hay Net

While we all know that a balanced diet is essential for our lovely companions, it’s also good to spoil them with treats from time to time. Many people tend to reward their horses by giving them human food like apples, carrots, pears, grapes and many more. 

However, there are some things that you should avoid feeding to your equines. These can be harmful and even fatal if your horse eats them. To give you some guidance, we have listed below some foods you shouldn’t feed to your horses:

1. Garlic and onions

Starting with a controversial topic…. Garlic! I myself have fed this for years with no known negative side effects. However, it is good to be informed on the topic and consulting a reputable Herbalist is recommended. 

Garlic, onions and other similar foods such as leeks, chives and shallots contain n-propyl disulphide, which is a toxic component for horses. N-propyl disulphide can destroy red blood cells which leads to a condition known as Heinz Body Anaemia.

A study conducted by Wendy Pearson in 2005 found that “when fed at high levels (250 g/day for a 500 kg horse) garlic caused an array of changes in the horse’s blood including an increase in mean corpuscular volume (MCV), decreases in red blood cell count and blood haemoglobin concentration.”

Many of you might be wondering why we include garlic in this list, as there are horse food and treats containing garlic. According to experts, if you do feed garlic to your equines, it’s worth considering to run a blood analysis to ensure that their mean corpuscular volume, haemoglobin and packed cell volume levels are in the normal range. 

As garlic is recognised as one of the most effective natural healing substances around the world as it contains substances that help in pain relief, anti-inflammatory conditions as well as aiding in equine respiratory diseases and infections in the horses’ lungs. It has many other benefits as well, so it’s up to the individual horse owner to research and decide if this is a good addition to your equine’s diet.

2. Chocolate

Just like dogs and cats, you shouldn’t give chocolate to your horses, too. Chocolates are known to have an ingredient called theobromine, which can cause seizures and internal bleeding. It can lead to increased heart rate, restlessness, muscle tremors, and diarrhoea. 

Your horses can react negatively to these chemicals. The effect might not be noticeable when you feed them in small amounts, but large doses can actually lead horses to fatal consequences.

Smaller doses, on the other hand, have a similar effect to caffeine. It could result in competition horses failing a drug test. 

3. Potatoes

Equines don’t usually like the taste of potatoes, but they might get tempted to eat it at some point. Potatoes are part of the nightshade family, making them toxic to horses. It contains a compound called atropine, which can affect your horse’s autonomic nervous system.

Raw potatoes are more dangerous than cooked potatoes, but potato poisoning is still possible even in the form of gnocchi, chips or other potato-based foods. The stems and the leaves of potato plants are also toxic for equines. 

While other horses can eat potatoes without exhibiting any problems, other horses frequently experience gastrointestinal distress or atropine toxicity. Because of this high risk, it’s best to avoid feeding them this starchy vegetable at all times.

4. Tomatoes

Like potatoes, tomatoes are also part of the nightshade family. This is why you should never feed it to your horses. 

It also has atropine that can cause colic, increase heart rate, constipation and decrease saliva levels. The green parts of a tomato plant also contain an alkaloid that can slow gut function. Horses generally don’t like tomatoes’ taste, but as a precautionary measure, plant your tomatoes in a secure area, away from them.

5. Meat

We all know that horses are herbivores, meaning their digestive systems are not built to eat meat. Carnivores have pointed teeth which help them eat meat, while herbivores like horses have flat teeth designed for chewing plants. 

Horse digestive systems are also a lot more different compared to meat-eating animals. Their liver isn’t meant to flush out the residues of meat. 

There’s no evidence on the long term side effects eating meat could have. However, it’s best to keep them away from eating any meat-based products to avoid serious diet issues. 

6. Bread

As horse owners, we sometimes get tempted to share our own snacks with our lovely companions. For instance, some owners feed bread to their horses. Although it looks like there’s no harm in feeding bread, it’s not nutritious to your equines. 

Bread has wheat, which is deficient in vitamins A, D and E, nutrients that are essential in a horse’s diet. It’s high in phosphorus, but low in calcium. According to a Veterinary Partner, “the larger amount of phosphorus interferes with calcium absorption, further contributing to calcium deficiency. Without enough calcium in the horse's diet, the horse's body will start pulling calcium from the bones and weakening them; the more bread that is fed, the greater the chance this will occur.“ 

It’s also high in starch, so if your horse has metabolic syndrome or insulin resistance, it can cause laminitis and founder. A small amount as an occasional treat ‘may’ be okay. Like anything in life, moderation is the key.

7. Avocado

Avocados have persin, a substance derived from the fatty acids known to be toxic for horses. This can cause symptoms like colic respiratory distress, edema, irregular heartbeat, and neurologic dysfunction. In severe cases, it may also lead to fatality. 

All parts of the avocado, including the leaves, stems and barks are toxic for horses. This is why it’s important to never feed your horses in areas where avocados grow. 

8. Dairy products

Horses are lactose intolerant. So in general, dairy products of any kind are not safe for them as they don’t have the proper digestive enzymes to absorb lactose.  

Consuming any food with lactose may lead to severe digestive upset and diarrhoea. This is why dairy products such as milk, cheese and ice cream should be avoided.

9. Cruciferous vegetables

Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, kale and broccoli are extremely gassy. It has a type of sugar called raffinose, which causes discomfort and intestinal gas in horses. 

Eating a few cruciferous vegetables may not be extremely dangerous for horses, but they can suffer from severe abdominal pains caused by gas-related colic. However, it could be fatal if they are fed large amounts of these vegetables. 

When feeding your horses, always make sure to do your own research. If you’re still unsure if a specific type of food is safe for your horses, don’t hesitate to contact a veterinarian or an equine nutritionist such as Larissa Bilston from Farmalogic.  

Equine Cushings and Insulin Resistance Group is a wonderful resource, especially if you are struggling with laminitis or have a horse or pony that has EMS, Cushing’s Disease, or any other metabolic disease.
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