As horse owners, you’ve probably heard rumours floating around the stables that some horses eat meat – particularly wild horses. You’ve also probably wondered whether there is any merit to this crazy claim.
Before you start to cook up a tasty steak for your horse, you may want to stop and consider whether this myth is based on fact. Or are the stories of meat-eating horses nothing but old wives’ tales?
I’ve done a bit of digging to uncover the truth of the matter – and the answer didn’t surprise me. Still, if you want to know a little more about whether it’s safe to feed your horsey friend some extra protein, you’ll find everything you need to know in this guide.
Can Horses Eat Meat?
Let’s get straight to the point: Horses are herbivores! This means that they don’t eat meat. However, there are certain situations where a horse will eat meat to survive. Usually, this is only true for wild horses who don’t have access to a balanced diet. So, it’s not likely that your domestic horse will go looking for a meaty treat.
In some cases, your horse may wound or kill small animals. Although it’s not a pleasant sight, finding bird or rodent carcasses in your horse’s enclosure isn’t all that uncommon. It’s important to remember that your horse probably killed these animals to protect their territory rather than to eat them, meaning there’s no need to panic.
Typically, horses can ingest a small amount of meat without too much of an issue, so if you suspect them of having eaten some, don’t orry too much but monitor them and make sure they have access to plenty freash water.
Your horse’s digestive system isn’t designed to process meat and, as such, it won’t do well on a meat-based diet. Instead, it’s best to understand what your horse needs and provide it with a well-balanced meal.
Understanding A Horse’s Diet
Since your horse can’t eat meat – what exactly are you supposed to feed it? Well, the answer is simple! Horses have a diet that primarily consists of plant matter, and they usually need plenty of fibre. Ideally, their diet will also be low in fat, which means no fatty foods like meat!
If you want to make sure that your horse is getting everything it needs in its daily diet, I’ve included some of the essential components below:
Forage forms the foundation of your horse’s diet and typically includes grasses and hay. This gives your horsey pal most of the essential fibre it needs and is important for maintaining your horse’s digestive system. Plus, it promotes healthy gut function, which means a happier and healthier horse!
Concentrates are supplementary feeds that you can add to your horse’s meals. It gives them plenty of additional nutrients and energy and includes foods like oats, corn and barley. Alternatively, high-quality horse feed can also provide them with these all-important nutrients.
Ideally, you’ll want to make sure to feed your horse the appropriate amount of concentrate based on its activity level, age, and overall nutritional needs.
A plant basd mixture of fibre and grains is best for horses.
It may seem obvious, but access to clean, fresh water is crucial for the health of your horse. In fact, water can aid in your horse’s digestion and temperature regulation. So, no matter what you do, remember to keep the water coming!
Minerals and vitamins
Just like humans, horses need a good balance of minerals and vitamins in their diet to stay healthy. Although they can get most of the nutrients they need from their daily feeds, you can always supplement their meals with other beneficial minerals and nutrients like:
Vitamins A, D, and E
Vitamin E and Selenium are both of vital importance to natural growth, and optimum muscle function.
The Anatomy Of A Horse’s Digestive System
When horses eat meat, they’re more likely to experience an upset stomach or other health complications. This is because horses digest meat differently from other animals like omnivores and carnivores. Since meat can’t move properly through your horse’s digestive tract, it’s always best to keep their diet plant based.
To give you a better idea of why your horse shouldn’t be eating meat as a chewy snack, let’s take a closer look at the anatomy of the equine digestive system:
Horses don’t usually have canine teeth… but that’s because they don’t really need them. Although you may have heard about a horse having canine teeth from other horse owners, the number of sharp teeth in a horse’s mouth is usually close to zero. Instead, they have a mouth full of flat teeth that are designed to grind and chew their food – not to bite into a leg of lamb.
Horses teeth, not really designed for eating meat
Once food passes through your horse’s oesophagus, it moves into the stomach. And, although horses are relatively large animals, their stomachs are surprisingly small. In fact, they can only hold around two to four gallons of food.
There are two distinct regions of the stomach as well, namely the glandular and non-glandular regions. While the non-glandular region’s job is to line the stomach to protect it from acid, it’s the glandular region that is responsible for breaking down food.
The food is broken down in this region using natural digestive enzymes, making it easier for it to move through the digestive system. But since they’re only made to break down plant-based material, it’s not as effective when horses eat meat.
The small intestine is where most of the nutrients from your horse’s food are absorbed. Usually, there are little to no nutrients that can be absorbed when they eat meat. This means that large quantities of meat can cause digestive upset over time.
Like the stomach, the cecum (which is the start of the large intestine) breaks down certain foods to use for energy. It typically breaks down fibre and carbohydrates before the food is completely digested. Like the small intestine, this system isn’t designed for the amount of protein that meat contains! Instead, it can make your horse feel a little green.
The Nutritional Needs Of Horses
Because horses are herbivores, they have specific nutritional requirements to keep their energy levels up and their bodies functioning at full capacity. Plus, wild horses that aren’t able to meet their own nutritional needs are usually the same ones that turn to eating meat to survive!
So, if you want to avoid having your horse scrounge around for small critters to munch on, you may want to keep an eye on their nutrition!
Horses need energy to fuel their daily activities – including their basic bodily functions. That means you need to make sure that your horse’s ‘tank’ is full at all times and not just when you’re riding it. Typically, horses get most of their energy from carbohydrates and fats.
Yes, you read that right. Horses do actually need a healthy amount of protein in their diet. But before you think I’ve been lying to you, these proteins aren’t found in meat. Instead, they’re usually sourced from concentrates and forage, so you won’t have to start feeding your horse a ham sandwich for afternoon tea.
Fibre is a crucial component of a well-rounded diet and can be found in forage and hay. Fibre is important for proper digestion, overall gut health, and preventing digestive issues like colic. So, whatever you do, be sure to give your horse plenty of fresh hay to feed on! Its tummy will thank you.
As a horse owner, you probably already know how much horses love salt. It’s like they can’t get enough.
Although it may not seem particularly appealing to lick a block of salt (at least, not to me), horses actually need a good balance of sodium chloride in their diet. Not only will it help to encourage them to drink more water, but it also helps to regulate their electrolyte levels.
Salt lick for horses can give your horse the salt it needs and keep it drinking water
Health Implications Of Horses Eating Meat
If you know someone that regularly feeds meat to their horses, you’re probably wondering ‘What’s the harm?’. After all, it can’t be that bad… can it?
Unfortunately, letting a horse eat meat regularly can cause a ton of issues for it. Here are just some of the most common health problems your horse could run into:
Digestive and dental issues
We’ve already spoken about a horse’s unique digestive system. Because it’s designed to extract nutrients from plant-based foods, it’s not going to do a great job at extracting them from meat. In fact, it’s unlikely that your horse will be able to digest it at all, which can lead to problems like colic and diarrhoea.
Of course, these digestion issues will only be a problem if your horse actually manages to eat meat in the first place. But, if by some crazy chance, they sink their teeth into a juicy slab of meat, they may be facing even more problems.
Horses’ teeth aren’t designed to rip and tear at meat, making it super difficult for them to chew it. If your horse eats enough meat, it can potentially result in broken teeth, painful chewing, and dental cracks. And if you thought a trip to the human dentist was expensive, think again. Fixing your horse’s teeth will be anything but cheap.
Meat isn’t a part of a horse’s natural diet. And although it may seem obvious, it definitely doesn’t contain the same balance of nutrients as a plant-based diet.
Since your horse needs a delicate balance of nutrients, eating meat isn’t a great way to stay as healthy as… well, a horse. Instead, your horse will be missing out on all of the vitamins and minerals it needs for optimal body functioning. This can lead to sickly horses with low energy.
If there’s one thing worse than a horse eating meat, it’s a horse eating raw meat. Eating raw meat can actually increase the risk of your horse contracting parasites, which can lead to a plethora of unnecessary health problems.
Is it ethical to feed horses meat or animal-based products?
While there are some cases where horses are fed meat out of necessity, it’s not exactly the kind of meal your horse will enjoy. If you think about it, your horse would much rather crunch down a juicy apple than be fed a lowly hot dog!
Understandably, this is why feeding your horse raw meat raises some ethical concerns. It’s important to respect your horse’s biological needs and provide them with a diet that meets their nutritional needs.
Why do some wild horses eat meat?
Although it’s rare, there are some documented instances of wild horses nibbling on some meat. This unusual behaviour could be influenced by various factors, like nutritional deficiencies or plain old curiosity!
Still, it’s important to remember that these meat-eating horses are the exceptions and not the norm. In fact, most wild horses stick to their natural diet of grasses and other forage.
Is meat toxic for horses?
Meat and horses: a less-than-ideal combination! While horses may occasionally consume small amounts of meat out of necessity, it’s not their preferred (or optimal) food source. Horses have a digestive system that is designed to process plant matter rather than roast chicken.
Although meat may not necessarily be toxic for them, feeding your horse meat on a regular basis can pose digestive problems and potential health risks. So, it may be best to keep meat off the menu and focus on giving your horse a healthy and well-balanced diet.