The Do’s and Dont’s of Feeding Horse Treats

We all enjoy a treat once in awhile – a nice warm brownie fresh out of the oven, a cool slice of watermelon on a hot summer day – and your horse is no different. He will enjoy a horse treat from you every now and then, or even on a daily basis in small amounts . We share treats with our horses to say thanks for a job well done,  as a reward when training, and let’s admit it  – feeding treats to our horses makes us feel good, too.

Horse Treat Guidelines

There is nothing wrong with treating your horse. He deserves it, and so do you. But there horse eating treats representing The Do's and Dont's of Feeding Horse Treatsare some guidelines we can use when selecting the type of treat,  as well as the feeding frequency and amount.

  • Select healthy vegetables and fruits as treats – these taste good to your horse and are usually close to foods they eat in their normal diet, so chances of digestive upset are reduced.
  • Feed only a small amount. Feeding your horse 15 large carrots at a time may create more of a meal than a treat. For an average size horse, one or two carrots is sufficient. Feeding too much of any treat can have negative effects on a balanced diet like lowering protein content, raising starch levels and diluting vitamins and minerals. In addition, too much of certain treats can lead to severe digestive upset and even colic or laminitis.
  • Feed sparingly. Treats are only special when they are not available all the time; feeding treats  free choice defeats the purpose.

What are Good Horse Treats?

  • Healthy snacks like apple slices, carrots, and hay cubes are good places to start for a treat. Many horses will even enjoy a banana.
  • Commercially made horse treats can be a favorite for many horses and they may store and travel better than fresh fruit or vegetables when you’re on the road.
  • Sugar cubes are a very traditional (although not very healthy) treat for horses.

What Treats Shouldn’t I Feed?

  • Don’t feed lawn clippings (these can contain poisonous plants, can cause choke, and can drastically change the pH of the hindgut )
  • Cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower can cause severe gas if fed in large amounts
  • Potatoes and Tomatoes are members of the nightshade family and while some people report feeding these with no issues it is best to avoid them.
  • Don’t feed unpitted stone fruits, as the pits can cause choke.
  • Chocolate – while your horse may enjoy it, chocolate can cause a positive result in a drug test.
  • Fresh bread, donuts, etc. – these items can become a doughy mass in the digestive tract and cause a blockage.
  • Sweet Feed (COB & unfortified sweet grains) can quickly unbalance the diet when enough is fed as a “treat”.

When feeding treats, remember the acronym A.I.M. – Always In Moderation. Keep your treats as close as possible to the natural diet and enjoy being a hero to your horse!

36 Replies to “The Do’s and Dont’s of Feeding Horse Treats”

  1. Thank you for your nice article, I printed it out and put it up in our barn to remind my wife! Feeding treats to your animals should be treated just as you were feeding them to yourself – only it’s easier to feed healthy when it’s not you. Carrots can last over a week, even uncooled and provide a nice, easy, and healthy snack that few horses will turn their noses to.

  2. Great article Nutrena. We try to recommend at CountryMax that treating your horse is a great way to add a little something nutritional to their diet as well as a bonding experience between horse and rider. Like anything else though, moderation is key and choosing the proper treat is vital! Keep up the great posts!

  3. I’ve posted on fb about the fact that the whole apple shouldnt be given to horses because of the cyanide in the seeds.there was all kinds of repost including one that called me stupid for posting that.what is true? Do or dont?

    1. As with any treat, moderation is key. While it is very unusual for a horse to have a problem with eating apples, if they eat enough of any one thing it can cause issues. Use your good judgement and limit any treat fed. Thanks for the question!

    2. It’s regretful that anyone would label you as stupid for asking a valid question. Yes, apple seeds are toxic to equines in sufficient quantity; they contain cyanogenic glycosides. However, the number of apples necessary to produce a toxic reaction is so high that it is likely the animal would colic on the apples (or tire of them) before experiencing toxicity from the seeds. Studies have estimated a toxic dose of apple seeds at one cup (8 fluid ounces), though of course equines vary in size and sensitivity. It may be that apple varieties vary in the amount of toxin in the seeds, as well. If your equine likes apples (and is not Cushing’s/EMS/etc.), a couple of apples should not be a problem. I recommend organically grown apples, of course. Please visit my research website for more information on equines and plant toxicity.

        1. Hi Aneleh,
          Thank you for your question regarding research on feeding concentrate apple juice to horses. As this is not an ingredient that is approved by the American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), we do not have information on this ingredient for horses. Apple Pectin Pulp, Dried and Apple Pomace, Dried are approved as feed ingredients in the U.S.

          In general, apple juice has been used over the years to flavor water when horses are traveling and to disguise the taste of medicines. Apple Cider Vinegar has also been used as a supplement. The main drawback I would see for concentrate apple juice would be the relatively high sugar content, requiring moderation for horses that may be prone to metabolic issues.

          You might want to see if Eleanor M. Kellon, DVM has published any work on the use of concentrate apple juice for horses.

          Best wishes,

    3. I feed the odd apple quartered every now & then if it has aged in the fridge, seeds & all. same as pears. I just prefer carrots as I do this initially when I catch them as apples tend to generate froth in saliva & it makes the bit all yucky on the bridle. I have been doing this for 35yrs. just one apple per day per horse maximum. My horses are out in the pasture 24hrs/7 days per week so dont know if this makes a difference to digestion.

    4. You would need to consume a large amount of apple seeds to have any type of cyanide poisoning. Specifically around 200 apple seeds or around 20 apples. Even then the seeds would need to be finely ground.

    5. The amount of cyanide in the apple seeds is so small that the few seeds from the apple won’t do harm. If you’re giving your horse numerous apples daily then it could be a problem. 🙂

    6. I’m not positive about that but many helpers at my barn feed the whole apple. I do but the horses don’t always enjoy the whole thing.
      It shouldn’t do any damage. But I’m not a horse health expert so maybe Ask your vet or search it up.

    7. I believe it’s ok to feed your horse a whole apple. I do and it doesn’t hurt them. But feeding them a lot of apples can cause to things like Colic. So I think feeding them one apple or 2 apples is enough. But no more than 2-3 because you wouldn’t want your horse to get Colic.

    8. It depends on the horse. Horses digest the seeds fine. The cyanide wouldn’t be something to worry about. Horses aren’t like humans and can digest a wider range of nutrients and products that we can’t.

  4. Can you feed uncapped honey to horses for allergies. I feed store bought. But I was giving 3 gallons of uncapped honey. Was just wondering

    1. Hi Donna,

      Interesting question. The uncapped honey is generally higher moisture than honey that has evaporated down to the usual moisture levels at which point the bees cap the cells in the comb with wax. There is some difference of opinion among beekeepers if they should extract uncapped honey or leave it for the colonies.

      I would not expect anything detrimental to be present in the uncapped honey unless the hives had been treated with anything for mites etc.

      If you have a horse with allergies, I would be more likely to recommend a product with high known Omega 3 content with demonstrated anti-inflammatory benefits.

      Best wishes,

  5. My 22 year old Mustang “Blue” has been diagnosed with Equine Cushings Disease, should I discontinue carrots as a snack? He was started on medication and vitamins last week.I wondered if carrots are to starchy or to much sugar content. Thank You,

    Susan Dunlap

    1. Hello Susan,

      Carrots as a treat have limited impact on a horses diet. Fresh carrots are only 11.5% dry matter and fairly high fiber product with moderate starch and sugar. They are a very good vitamin source. You would need to feed a rather large quantity of carrots to have an impact on diet. If you feed a pound a day of fresh carrots, only adding 1.92 ounces of dry matter to the diet.

      Thank you ~ Roy J.

      1. Hi, my horse suffers from Cushing however has never had an episode of laminitis. I have to feed my horse 1 and a half carrots per day as I hide his Pergolide medication (for Cushings) in the center of the cut up pieces. I have tried many many ways of tricking him into taking his medication but this is the only one that has worked. My vet says this should fine.

        Would you classify this as too much carrot?

        1. Hello Ange,
          Interesting question. On a dry matter basis, this is a very small amount of feed per day, so you are not adding a sufficient amount of starch and sugar (non-structural carbohydrate) to impact the diet. Very creative use of carrots!

  6. so how often can you feed apples and carrots and for that matter how much as well?

    1. Hi Jane,
      When it comes to treats, moderation is key. As the post states, for an average sized horse, one or two carrots is sufficient when offering a treat. And they are only special when they aren’t available all the time, so use sparingly.

      Good luck!

  7. Is feeding household biscuits to my horse a bad idea? (He is my first horse so I am a bit concerned)

    1. Hi C.K.,
      A good rule of thumb when it comes to treats is to avoid things like fresh bread, donuts, etc. These items can become a doughy mass in the digestive tract and cause a blockage. Best of luck with your new horse!

      Roy J.

    1. Hello Nikki, thank you for your question regarding Avocados and horses. Although there are human health experiences associated with avocados, horses are different and it is not recommended to feed avocados to horses.
      According to the Merck Veterinary manual, Ingestion of avocado (Persea americana) fruit, leaves, stems, and seeds has been associated with Myocardial injury, mastitis and colic in horses.
      Are you hoping to achieve a specific health objective? It is recommended to contact your Veterinarian.

  8. Good day
    Thanks for the article, I have a young foal (2mnths) that I would like to give treats to when he is being trained. I have had many people say so many different things that I’m worried that I’ll give him something I shouldn’t, could you please give your opinion on the following, small malasa cubes, sunflower seeds & fruit loops.

  9. I appreciate you saying that healthy fruits & veggies are closer to the horse’s normal diet and probably won’t cause digestion problems because of that. My wife has a horse and we do our best to keep him healthy and treat him well. We’re glad to hear steps we can take to take better care of him.

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