Are Horses Omnivores or Herbivores?

If you’re wondering whether your horse is an omnivore or simply a herbivore, I’ve put together an interesting article on horse food staples and some of the foods you must avoid feeding your horse.

So, are horses herbivores? What foods do horses eat? And how much food do they need?

Horses are herbivores, which means that their digestive tracts are designed to process plant-based foods. But it’s not just the digestive tract that’s typical of herbivores, horse teeth are also typical of herbivorous animals.

Horses have flat teeth that don’t stop growing throughout their lives and they’re worn down by chewing through plant matter.

They have twelve sets of incisors, premolars and molars. The incisors serve for cutting down plants, while the rest of the teeth help in grinding down tough stems.

Because the digestive tract of horses has evolved to continuously digest small amounts of food and empty quickly, you’ll see horses constantly grazing or eating hay. A horse may spend well up to 17 hours a day grazing just to meet its caloric demand.

And because a horse stomach cannot hold large amounts of food, horses need constant access to grass or hay, otherwise their digestive tracts empty and there’s a risk of intestinal twisting and colic.

To prevent this from happening, make sure your horse has constant access to food and water.

What do Horses Eat?

Horses eat a variety of plants to meet their caloric demand, which is high. An average horse needs a calorie intake of 15,000 per day, while an active horse may need up to double that number, 30,000 calories.

Therefore, it’s understandable that horses spend most of their time grazing.

Here are the staples of horse nutrition:

– Grass

Grazing on lush green pastures is what horses have been evolved to do. As I mentioned, horses need quite a bit of calories and while grazing they usually have an intake of 250 calories per pound.

To get to the required intake of calories, a horse will need to graze on grass throughout the day. However, fresh grass is not available all year round. This is where hay comes in.

– Hay

Hay is harvested throughout the growing season and stored for use during winter. It is estimated that horses need to consume around 2% of their body weight in hay each day.

It’s essential that hay is stored in a dry environment, where there’s no risk of it getting moldy. Ingesting moldy hay can cause abdominal pain and other complications, especially that horses can’t throw up to eliminate the moldy hay from their system.

– Grains

Grains and grain-based horse feed are given to horses as a supplemental food source, depending on activity level and size.

Grains come in pelleted or texturized forms and they’re usually a combination of oats, barley, corn, and other grains suitable for horses such as wheat or milo.

– Fruits & Veggies

While grass, hay and grains are the staples of a horse diet, fruits and veggies can also be consumed in a limited quantity, usually as a treat.

The veggies that are safe to give your horse include carrots, pumpkin, celery. In terms of fruit, apples are an all-time favorite and they’re safe for your horse to eat as a treat.

Other fruits that you can give your horse include melon, cantaloupe, bananas, strawberry and grapes.

You should feed fruit and veggies in limited quantities only and make sure to check which veggies and which fruit are safe for your horse, because not all are safe.

What Horses Should Not Eat?

Despite being herbivores, there are plenty of fruits and veggies that aren’t safe for horse consumption. Besides these, there are also a few human foods that are toxic or dangerous to your horse and you should never feed your horse with them.

Here’s a list of foods that your horse should NOT eat:

  • Tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, and chili peppers (they can cause constipation and/or hemorrhagic diarrhea).
  • Garlic, onions, leek, scallions, shallots, and chives (can destroy red blood cells and cause anemia).
  • Potatoes, especially if green or rotten (it can cause toxicosis), plus whole potatoes can get lodged in the windpipe and cause choking.
  • Cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, kale and other cabbage-like veggies because of the high amounts of gas they produce, causing extreme discomfort and pain to your horse.
  • Houseplants (several houseplants are toxic to horses and can cause renal or liver failure, so keep your houseplants where your horses don’t have access to them).
  • Dog or cat food even if they’re grain based (they contain animal-based protein or meat by-products, none of which are good for horses).
  • Fruit seeds and pits (they can contain cyanide compounds, which are toxic in large quantities).
  • Chocolate and caffeine, which can cause irregular heartbeat (caffeine) and toxicity leading to severe colic, internal bleeding, or metabolic derangements.

Even with veggies or fruit that are permitted for horse consumption, you should watch out for seeds (e.g., nectarines or peaches) and remove them before feeding them to your horse. You should also watch out for size (e.g., apples) which can get stuck in the windpipe and cause choking. It’s best to cut these up for your horse.

Will a Horse Eat Meat?

No, a horse will not normally eat any meat since it’s not an omnivorous animal. You may have heard of stories of horses attacking birds or chickens, but they would not normally eat their meat.

A severely starving horse may eat meat in desperation, but it’s not something they’ll do under normal circumstances.

Therefore, you should not feed your horse meat or meat-based products like a cat or dog kibble or any other feed that contains meat.

Conclusion

Now that you know more about the foods that are safe and unsafe for horse consumption, you can focus on offering your horse a balanced diet.

Be sure to offer your horse constant access to fresh water and avoid foods that cause toxicity or intestinal problems.

Despite being herbivores, some plants, fruits and vegetables aren’t suitable for horses and can cause toxicity, putting their lives in danger.

Horse Facts

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