These 'Human' Foods Can Harm Your Horse

August 23, 2017
 women feeding a horse carrots

Are you guilty of sharing human food with your horse? Then get in line. How many owners haven't shared "treats" with their horses? But what you may not know is that some popular foods shared with horses can actually be toxic or pose a choking hazard.

Apples and Carrots May Harm Some Horses

Apples and carrots are a healthy, safe treat — unless your horse has Cushing's Disease, insulin issues or is overweight. According to Anna O'Brien, DVM, they're just too high in sugar for animals with certain health issues. She suggests these alternatives:

  • Celery pieces. Celery is low in sugar. But for senior horses or those with tooth problems, chewing it may difficult and can result in choking. Cut the celery into bite-size pieces and give it in limited amounts.
  • Apple peels. Peels provide the flavor without the added sugar.
  • Sugar-free candy. Artificial sweeteners are okay in small amounts. Who knew?
  • Molasses-free beet pulp. Give a tiny handful or use it to bulk up regular food. Molasses-free beet pulp might be OK, but don't give a Cushingoid horse fresh beets; they're full of natural sugar.

Store-bought horse treats may also contain lots of molasses and sugar. Check the ingredients labels.

Human Foods Unfit For Horses

It might be tempting to share your favorite human foods with your friend, but you may not be doing them a favor, and in some cases you can cause health issues or choking. Resist the urge to feed your horse the following:

  • Hamburger. Horses are herbivores; their digestive system is complex and not meant for meat consumption.
  • Bran. Many owners believe a bran mash is healthy for a horse's digestive system. However, bran is high in fiber and too much in the diet can cause a nutritional imbalance (not to mention acting as a laxative). While safe as an occasional treat, bran is probably not necessary if your horse is getting enough quality hay and feed.
  • Apple cores. The seeds are slightly toxic, but more importantly, horses can easily choke on the cores if not chewed properly.
  • Ear of Corn. Corn straight from the field can harbor bacteria; it can also mold easily in wet climates. While you might be able to smell (or see) mold, you can't see bacteria. Corn ears can also be a choking hazard. 
  • Chocolate. There are two reasons to avoid it: caffeine and theobromine, both of which are found in chocolate and can be toxic to horses.
  • Tomato plants. The tomato won't hurt your horse, but the tomato stalks can. Don't throw tomato plants in the pasture or give them as treats; they can be toxic.
  • Raw onion, garlic, broccoli, cabbage, and potatoes. These foods can cause digestive issues. If you use garlic supplements, be sure they're in the proper form and given according to directions. What about potato chips? Since they're cooked, they're okay in very small amounts — but they still may contain salt and preservatives, which are not good in large quantities for you or your horse!
  • Avocados. The soft, green meaty part of the fruit is okay (in moderation); just don't feed the skins or pits to your horse.
  • Bananas. These are not only high in sugar, they're also high in potassium, which can be toxic to horses. A small piece of the peel is OK.
  • Pumpkin seeds. Nope, these are high in potassium, too — and so is pumpkin meat.
  • Baked goods. Avoid them. You just don't know what's in them; some ingredients may be toxic.
Giving Meds: Is Peanut Butter Safe?

Peanut butter is safe in small amounts. Peanuts and peanut butter are rich in potassium, and most peanut butters have added sugar and salt. So, if you're just using a spooonful to disguise medication, that's probably fine. Choose an organic brand with no added salt or sugar.

You may want to print the above information and tape it to your refrigerator or barn wall as a reminder of which foods are safe for your horses. Sometimes a big hug, a kiss on the nose or a neck-rub is a better alternative. It's cheaper than a vet bill, and healthier for your equine friend.

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