do horses eat meat

Do Horses Eat Meat?

Written by: Annemarie Dutton

Grass, hay, carrots, apples. We think of horses as herbivores, living off of a vegetarian diet.  But you might have wondered – do horses eat meat, too?

This question might seem weird, but horses are routinely fed dried fish through winter for extra protein in Iceland.

This article will explore the reasons why horses are fed meat.

Horses Are Herbivores

Horses are herbivores, so they need plant products such as grass, fruits, etc. In addition, they have a delicate digestive system geared up to process plant matter and not meat. Therefore, horses will not naturally eat meat on their own, whether domestic or in the wild.

Digestive System

A horse’s stomach and the intestines are large and long. Therefore, plant matter takes longer to digest and break down inside the body to allow all the nutrients to be absorbed fully.

When you compare it to a carnivore’s system, stomachs that are designed for eating meat are smaller and the intestines shorter.

Therefore, meat is digested faster and expelled from the body more quickly. Carnivores also have a particular type of liver that removes toxins found in various meats. Unfortunately, horses’ livers lack this vital function.

Furthermore, horses are unable to vomit. This leads to scary complications if they eat some bad meat for some reason. 

Teeth

Another difference between horses and traditional meat-eaters lies in the teeth. Horses have flat, molar-like teeth meant for grinding and chewing rather than tearing and ripping, like the sharper teeth in carnivores.

Instead, horse mouths contain twelve incisors used for cutting plants, twelve premolars, and twelve molars, which are used to grind down on traditionally tough stems and leaves.

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Reasons Why Horses Eat Meat

As a Supplement

Sometimes, horse owners in Europe and America will add beef gelatin and bone meal to horse feed. While not fed to horses outright, these are common supplements, fortifying food with additives to help horses stock up on needed proteins and fats.

Horses can also suffer from pica, a mineral deficiency. As a result, they may find themselves gnawing on things such as bones or cartilage to balance out those missing nutrients.

Salty Taste

Things such as dried fish may not be desirable to a horse because they are meat, but rather for their sodium content.

A horse will enjoy licking something salty. Its body craves these minerals, hence the appeal of the Icelandic dried fish.

Times of War

Times of war or other hardships have led to some historical accounts of horses eating meat.

In desert lands where vegetation was scarce and warring regularly occurred, people fed their horses a mixture of honey, dried locusts, and dried camel meat. 

Cold and Harsh Climates

Climate, especially harsh winters, can lead to more carnivorous tendencies. In a harsh climate, Tibetan horses are often fed a mixture of blood and grain. 

These additions to their diets keep their systems healthy and help them survive a cold, unforgiving winter. But they are not eating meat so much as being fed meat derivatives here. 

Healthy Food and Treats for Horses

Pasture Grass

Horses love grass, and you should allow them to eat as much grass as possible.

Hay and Straw

You can give hay and straw to your horses. One benefit of hay and straw is that it does not stink nor have a foul smell like harvested grass. Hay and straw are more suitable for long-term storage.

Hay contains the necessary amounts of carbohydrates, proteins, fibers, etc., for horses, so hay usually makes up most of a horse’s diet.

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Cereal Grains

Grains such as wheat, barley, rye, etc., are favorite foods of horses, and you can regularly provide grains to your horses.

Remember to properly store your grains moisture-free to prevent bacteria and fungi spoilage.

Fruits and Vegetables

Your horse loves fruits and vegetables. Remember to give horses fruit as treats. Horses can eat fruits such as:

  • Apples
  • Bananas
  • Oranges
  • Mangoes
  • Pineapples

Give horses a lot of vegetables as vegetables contain the needed amounts of nutrients that horses need. Vegetables are just like grass and hay but have more nutrients. Examples of vegetables that horses can eat are:

  • Asparagus
  • Brussel Sprouts
  • Celery
  • Cabbages
  • Lettuce

Make sure to give your horses a lot of vegetables. Remember that you can mix carrots and other vegetables for variety.

Commercially-Made Treats

You can shop for commercial treats for your horse if you run out of other treat ideas.

Note that horse treats usually contain a lot of carbohydrates and energy, so you should not give your horses too many treats.

Conclusion

The bottom line is that the horse’s biology is not set up to eat meat.  From its teeth to the stomach to extracting nutrients, a horse’s body is naturally vegetarian. While there are some exceptions or additives to their diets, it does not mean most horses should or could eat meat.

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