Safe Treats for Horses
The following article was written by Equine Nutritionist, Dr. Juliet Getty, PhD. For more great information about equine nutrition, please see her website.
Treats: Which are safe and which are not?
Horse owners often ask me about the safety of offering common foods as treats. Occasionally, some odd items are mentioned, such as French fries, garlic bread, or even chocolate! These are not exactly good for your horse and can be dangerous. So, let’s take a close at some choices.
What’s safe to feed? Here’s a list:
- Apricots (without the pit)
- Bananas (including the peel)
- Dates (pitted)
- Grapes (and raisins)
- Peanuts (roasted, never raw)
- Sweet potatoes
- Watermelon (including the rind)
And now, what NOT to feed!
Starch and sugar are out of the question for some horses
Fat deposits along the crest of the neck, rump, shoulders, or back, indicate insulin resistance. Starchy or sugary treats will raise insulin to dangerous levels, increasing laminitis risk. Horses with Cushing’s disease also require a low starch/low sugar diet.
Avoid the following:
- Cooked Potatoes
- Commercial treats made with cereal grains (oats, corn, barley, rice, wheat) and molasses
Better low sugar/low starch choices:
- Alfalfa cubes or pellets (surprisingly low in sugar)
- Apple peels
- Watermelon rinds
- Commercial products that are low in starch/sugar
Avoid these foods for ALL horses:
Chocolate. You know about not giving it to your dog, but your horse is also sensitive to the toxic chemical found in chocolate called theobromine.
Stay away from milk products — ice cream, cheese, and even yogurt. I know — you’ve perhaps heard that yogurt is good for your horse because it’s a probiotic but it also contains lactose and grown horses are lactose intolerant. Your horse will get diarrhea and he will not like you.
Other potentially toxic fruits and vegetables include:
- Raw potatoes
- Garlic (raw)
Treats with “something extra”? Not worth feeding
Some commercial treats have added vitamins and minerals. You run the risk of either feeding too many nutrients (if your horse already gets a fortified feed), or not feeding enough (if you’re relying on the treats to act as a nutritional supplement).
Probiotics are added to some treats. But their microbial concentration is too low to make a difference, unless you were to feed the whole bag.
Horses trust us to take care of them. Choose wisely.
Supporting Materials for Treats
Horses are our friends. They trust us to take care of them — both mind and body — allowing them to thrive physically and be mentally content. We like to give them treats, but please, keep in mind that treats are just that — treats. And they are for your horse, not for you. Understanding our motivations can help us make good decisions about the type and frequency of treating. Even the most nutritious treats are only meant to be fed once in a while.
Using treats is a personal choice, strictly between you and your horse. Some folks offer them freely, some not at all, and others like to use them for rewarding specific behaviors. Your relationship with your horse is unique and I am not here to change your philosophy. I am simply trying to keep your horse healthy, if you choose to offer him a treat.
Commercial treats generally fall into one of two categories. The most common treats are cookies made from cereal grains such as oats, barley, corn, and wheat. They are likely sweetened with molasses. These can be offered to a healthy horse as an occasional treat. If your horse needs to stay away from sugar and starch, these treats are not for him.
Apples and carrots are high in sugar, and should not be given to sensitive horses.
Some low starch options include:
- Alfalfa cubes. These are comparable in sugar levels to most grass hays and make excellent treats for most horses.
- Fruit rinds and peels. Apple and banana peels, and cut up watermelon rinds are tasty and low in sugar.
- Skode’s Horse Treats. A full line of cookies and trail mixes designed to be free of starchy/sugary ingredients with a very low percent NSC.