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Treats: Which are safe and which are not?


By Juliet M. Getty, Ph.D.


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:


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:

·         Apples

·         Bread

·         Candy

·         Carrots

·         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:

·         Broccoli

·         Cauliflower

·         Cabbage

·         Tomatoes

·         Peppers

·         Raw potatoes

·         Onions

·         Garlic (raw)

·         Spinach

·         Avocados


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.





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