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Treats Safe for Horses, and What to Avoid

It is always tricky to know which treats are safe to give horses, and which ones are potentially lethal. The general rule for giving any treat is to feed in moderation, as a sudden change in a horse’s diet can cause changes to gut bacteria resulting in diarrhoea or even colic.

It’s really important not to over-treat your horse as this can lead to behavioural problems as well as affecting their waist lines. As with humans, some horses may be sensitive or allergic to different sources, so caution must always be taken.

Horses generally eat for 18 hours per day. Bulk fibre is essential to keep them happy and healthy and this is normally fed in the form of grass, hay or haylage. Monitor your horse’s intake and nutrition carefully to keep them in tip top condition, to prevent them from putting on too much
weight and from contributing to any conditions.

Top tip – If you find that your horse has piled on the pounds, soak their hay for 12 hours to keep the fibre and bulk content high.

BURFORD: ENGLAND. 23rd MAY. Blue Cross. Preparing a hay net. Burford, UK on May 23rd, 2016.

Image Credit: Steve Bardens/Blue Cross

Whether you are looking to make food more palatable or simply wanting to treat your horse, you can give the following occasionally:

  • Bananas – but do not feed to horses that suffer from equine hyperkalemic periodic paralysis disease (HYPP) as the fruit is high in potassium
  • Apple slices (apple pips contain traces of poisonous cyanide so it’s best to be cautious and remove the core)
  • Carrots
  • Pear
  • Watermelon
  • Grapes
  • Another popular treat are mints. These should only ever be given on occasion due to high sugar content which is fattening.

These foods are not safe and should never be fed to horses:

  • Avocado
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Garlic in raw form – stick to garlic supplements only and stick to recommended amounts
  • Cauliflower
  • Kale
  • Onions
  • Chocolate

Important things to consider

Medical conditions

The most important rule is to consider any conditions that your horse may be suffering from, such as insulin resistance or obesity, where their diets may need to be heavily restricted, so most fruits may be off limits as they are high in sugar and starch. If in doubt always consult your vet beforehand. Apples and carrots are known to be popular treats for horses, however can be high in sugar content.

BURFORD: ENGLAND. 23rd MAY. Blue Cross. Foal and mother, Princess and Cinderella. Burford, UK on May 23rd, 2016.

Image Credit: Steve Bardens/Blue Cross

Senior horses

With poor dentition, older horses are more prone to choke. Remove thick rinds, chop treats into smaller pieces and even soak in water to soften them prior to feeding. Carrot and apple peelings are an ideal treat for an older horse.

How to prep a carrot safely

To help lessen the chances of choke, always cut fruit and veg lengthways and never chop into round chunks as these can get lodged easy in airways.

Feeding bulk fibre

Bulk fibre is essential for keeping your horse’s gut moving. This can vary from hay to haylage, and of course grass.

There are different types of hay which include seeded and meadow. Quality can differ enormously so ensure that you know it has been stored away from rodents and in a dry environment as mould spores can quickly cause respiratory problems in horses.

If you need to soften hay for older horses then you could wet it or feed haylage if they are in need of a little more condition.

Always know the body condition of your horse to know whether you are feeding the correct amount for optimum condition. For more information on this please visit Blue Cross site.

Gemma Taylor

Gemma Taylor

Community User

Gemma Taylor is an Education Officer at Blue Cross. She has worked at Blue Cross for 13 years and now runs the National Equine Health Survey, collecting data with a view to improving the future health of the nation’s horses.