If you’re reading an article about whether horses can eat chocolate, you’re likely thinking of feeding chocolate to your horse.
So, can horses eat chocolate? Of course, they can, but should they? The answer is NO! Although chocolate is a comfort food for us humans, it’s anything but a tasty treat for horses.
I’ll go into further detail about exactly what makes chocolate bad for horses. You’ll find out why horse lovers should keep their chocolate bars away from their equine pals.
Nutritional Content of Chocolate
As tasty as chocolate is, there’s close to no nutritional value to it – especially for horses and other animals. In fact, it’s highly toxic for many animals. There are several ingredients in chocolate that are harmful to equine species and you should avoid feeding it to your horse.
The theobromine contained in cocoa, and hence in chocolate and chocolate products, is highly toxic to your horse. When you add caffeine and theobromine together, the result to your horse’s health can be even more devastating.
The Health Risks of Feeding Your Horse Chocolate
I’ve already mentioned caffeine and theobromine. Besides these, there are other ingredients in most chocolate that are bad for your horse’s body. These can end up making your horse very sick!
Let’s run through some of these and why they present health risks for your horse:
Of the common ingredients contained in chocolate is theobromine, and it’s likely the least well-known. It can quickly unsettle a horse’s digestive tract, though. It’s also known to cause other more serious issues than an upset stomach.
If your horse ingests a considerable amount of theobromine, diarrhoea is the least of your worries. Even healthy horses could experience metabolic issues and heart attacks. Epileptic seizures and internal bleeding are also possible.
There may be horse owners and trainers that use caffeine on their racehorses to improve their performance. As a natural stimulant, caffeine can help with this, but you should think about its negative effects too.
Caffeine, along with theobromine, is widely outlawed for equine consumption.
It produces similar ailments to theobromine in horses, but it’s not present in chocolate in the same quantities. Chocolate contains up to 10 times less caffeine than theobromine, but combining the two raises the chance of harming the horse.
Too much caffeine can cause raised stress and anxiety levels in horses.
Sugar and calories
We know that when we eat chocolate, we consume extra calories due to the high sugar and fat levels it contains. Combined with very low levels of vitamins, minerals, and fibre, this dietary profile is far removed from your horse’s natural diet.
Too much sugar raises blood glucose and insulin in horses with laminitis. Laminitis is tissue damage and inflammation between a horse’s hoof and the coffin bone underneath and is a common equine ailment.
Raised glucose and insulin levels can show in horses with equine metabolic syndrome (EMS). EMS is an endocrine condition causing a horse to become obese through localised deposits of fat. EMS also affects the animal’s body through insulin dysregulation and often includes laminitis as a symptom too.
How to Stop Horses from Eating Chocolate
The easiest way to stop a horse from eating chocolate is obvious. Don’t give it to them!
If your horse has access to chocolate, it will likely eat it. Check the ingredients of the treats you want to give your horse and rule out the ones that include chocolate.
Make sure your family and staff know the dangers of chocolate for horses as well.
Types of Chocolate That Are Unsafe For Horses
In short, all types of chocolate are unsafe for horses. Various chocolate types already contain cattle dairy products that horses are lactose-intolerant to. One more dangerous ingredient exists in all chocolates, though – cocoa.
As we now know, cocoa contains theobromine and caffeine. This indisputable fact means NO chocolate is good for equine consumption, even as an occasional horse treat. Having said that there are certain chocolates that are worse for a horse’s body than others.
For interest’s sake, I’m going to list several chocolate types to show how bad each is to feed horses.
Cocoa beans or powders
Remember that cocoa is what actually contains the theobromine in chocolate. Hence, it makes sense that pure cocoa beans or refined cocoa powders include far higher levels of the ingredient than any type of chocolate does.
Don’t let these beans or powders anywhere near your horse. Cocoa beans contain over 42 mg of theobromine per kilogram and cocoa powder is even worse with over 50 mg/kg.
If your horse does happen to sample one of these ingredients, seek veterinary help straight away.
Of all the types of actual chocolate, dark chocolate has the highest levels of theobromine with over 9 mg/kg. It also contains caffeine, sugar, and fat. It has hardly any fibre content or vitamins that a horse’s body would find nutritional.
If you have a healthy horse, it’s unlikely to experience any health problems from a small piece of dark chocolate. Feed it too much and it will likely suffer from colic or diarrhoea due to the dairy products in the chocolate, at the very least.
Like dark chocolate, milk chocolate isn’t good for your horse. This chocolate contains less theobromine though, so it’s not as bad for your animal, even in larger amounts. Because of its sugar content, horses with EMS may end up struggling and experience more weight gain.
You’re not spoiling your horse by giving it milk chocolate. A few pieces of fruit are more of a treat to a horse than any type of chocolate ever will be!
The sweet taste of white chocolate can be quite appealing to a horse if it gets used to it. You really don’t want your horse getting used to it though.
White chocolate contains the least theobromine of any chocolate, with only 0.02 mg/kg. This means it is the least harmful type of chocolate you can feed your horse, but don’t be fooled!
Even white chocolate is harmful to horses if eaten in large quantities so don’t let the stats deceive you. Remember, white chocolate also contains sugar and a horse’s digestive tract is not made for too much sugar. Add dairy products to the mix and you’ll end up with a horse gaining weight and having an upset stomach.
Can horses eat treats that include chocolate like chocolate chip cookies? No, don’t feed horses treats containing chocolate at all. Your horse will not miss them and will be quite happy with its horse feed.
What Are Some Horse-Safe Alternatives To Chocolate?
If you want to treat your horse with something sweet try peppermints, honey, or corn syrup. You can even feed it some sweet breakfast cereal that doesn’t contain chocolate. Cheerios or Fruit Loops come to mind – but moderation should also come to mind!
Can horses eat chocolate mixed with oatmeal?
Oatmeal is perfect for a horse to eat as it contains fibre and nutrients, but leave out the chocolate. Instead, add a little peanut butter, fruit, or honey. Your horse will likely be quite happy with the oatmeal alone, though.
Is there a safe form of chocolate-flavoured feed for horses?
There are horse supplements and feeds available that have chocolate flavours. It’s important to note that these products mimic the chocolate taste and don’t contain chocolate itself. They’re produced using safe ingredients to give them a chocolate taste.