Horses are a demanding animal to care for. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle and developing muscles to increase their power is very important. Whether the horse is racing, used for labor, or for weekend leisure, caring for it properly takes a lot of time.
From water supply to maintaining a stable and providing high-quality feed, a horse is not easy to raise. Nutrition is essential for its well-being. Can cheese be part of a horse’s diet?
Why Cheese Should Never be Given to Horses
The answer is no. Horses are lactose intolerant – they cannot consume cheese, milk, yogurt, and eggs.
Lactose intolerance is a condition in which an animal’s digestive system is unable to break down lactose, a type of sugar found in milk and other dairy products. These animals lack an enzyme called lactase which is the key to breaking down lactose. This condition is also common in humans, which may drink milk with 0% lactose instead.
Horses have evolved as non-ruminant grazing animals and spend several hours eating forage. Feeding on grasses relatively lower in nutrient and energy content, they have adjusted their evolutionary behavior by consuming enough to meet their dietary demands. Most horses would do well when fed good quality hay, fresh water, and a quality mineral block.
While cheese may seem like an easy snack to share with your equine pal, it is definitely not recommended and will cause a high veterinary bill and working overtime cleaning up after your horse.
Consuming any dairy products will cause stomach upset among other health complications.
Horses are not able to digest dairy products.
Other common symptoms are diarrhea, bloating, and even colic.
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But Foals Drink Milk After Birth?
You may wonder why all horses are lactose intolerant yet as mammals require their mother’s milk when growing. The answer is that horses develop this condition while growing.
An interesting fact about horses is that they do not vomit when they have an upset stomach and repel whatever is making them feel sick. Thus, they remain sick for longer periods of time.
The Danger of Colic and How To Spot It
While the side effects may not be dire, intentionally feeding your horse large amounts of cheese should always be avoided to avoid diarrhea and colic.
You may have recently given your horse some cheese or it may have been accidentally eaten and wonder whether your beloved animal suffers from colic. Horse colic is a very common side effect when it ingests cheese of any kind. It is basically a spasm in their stomach that is reacting to the food it is unable to process.
Mild cases are characterized by the horse being tired, withdrawn, or generally uncomfortable. In more serious cases, the animal may thrash violently due to the pain and will require attention from a specialist.
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Good Treats for Horses
Avoid giving even small slices of cheese to your horse. There are plenty of other treats that you can give them, like carrots or alfalfa hay (see our article on how much alfalfa your horse should eat).
Foals also enjoy apples (without the core), berries, grapes, and watermelon. They can be both dried or raw, but it is important to be cut up into small pieces to avoid any choking hazards. Their favorite vegetables, along with carrots, include lettuce, green beans, and celery.
Other treats that you can give your horse are sugar cubes (be careful to keep them small), pretzels, sunflower seeds, and oatmeal. Always consult a vet. Having a balanced nutrition-rich diet is crucial for a horse’s health.
Cheese and other dairy products contain high levels of calcium which is known to support healthy bones and teeth among other benefits. Horses also require this nutrient and it can be given through either a supplement or by adding alfalfa hay to their diet.
In general, a horse only needs hay or grass and water. Any extra snacks or treats are not a must but could be added to their diet if safe for consumption.
However, treats are an important part of interaction with your horse. They may be used for rewarding certain behavior or completing a task. It is the owner’s choice whether to give these treats and what they will be.
What Other Foods Are Dangerous for a Horse?
Besides dairy, some other foods such as avocado, meat, lawn clippings, and chocolate should be avoided.
Nightshades, like potatoes, are very dangerous for horses. This family also includes tomato, eggplant, and pepper. Horses are not attracted by the smell or taste of these vegetables, however, they may be tempted to eat the stems and leaves while they are growing if they have access to them in a pasture. They are toxic and affect the nervous system, sometimes resulting in death.
Horses are not supposed to have cheese in their diet. Avoid giving them dairy products at all costs.
I am a huge animal lover and have four dogs, a Labrador, Jack Russell, Pug, and Teacup Yorkie. I also have a cat and a Cockatiel. I have had pets since I was a toddler, and there was not a day when there wasn’t an animal in my house.