Can Horses Eat Meat? Can They Digest it?

Can horses eat meat? 

I know more than a few new owners who are wondering the same thing.

It does seem like an easy way to provide them with protein, but is it safe and digestible?

Let’s dive into the topic and see whether its a possibility. 

Related: Can Horses Eat Sweet Potato?

Can Horses Eat Meat?

two horses are going to eat the pieces of pork but can horses eat meat?

In certain situations, a horse can eat meat when there’s no other choice.

Your horse’s digestive tract will tolerate and digest small amounts without much of an issue.

More on a horse’s digestive system later…

Domesticated horses have even been known to eat baby chicks, birds, mice, and farmland pests. It’s a rare event, but does happen from time to time. 

Some owners choose to feed their horses cooked food, such as steak, pork, or cooked chicken.

But it’s essential to realize that the amount of meat they can digest will differ from horse to horse.

Your horse’s ability to digest will also depend on whether they were given meat as a foal or baby. If they were, meat is more likely to agree with them.

But a horse owner must realize that a diet of meat for their horses isn’t ideal.

Meat is a last resort option to use during stretches of extreme hardship, starvation, or when lacking resources.

After all, your horse has flat teeth designed for powering through vegetables and hay.

They don’t have fangs or sharp teeth made for ripping apart raw meat or flesh.

Your horse’s diet needs to consist of fruits, grasses, and vegetables. In other words, a diet built around their identity as a herbivore. 

What If My Horse Likes Eating Meat?

horse eating in a brown plastic bag

Some horses will like the taste or smell of meat and a few bites of sandwich.

But it doesn’t mean that you should feed them it, even as a treat. 

Their plant-based digestive system won’t react well to an ongoing intrusion of meat. Your horse needs to stick with its boring plant and hay diet.

More importantly, your horse is likely not reacting to the smell or taste of meat itself. Horses tend to love what we use to process and flavor our cooked food.

If those smells and tastes are incorporated into their regular diet, your horse won’t give meat a second thought.

Do Wild Horses Eat Meat?

family of wild horses in the mountains

Wild horses have been known to adventure on the wild side and eat smaller animals.

But again, these meat-eating horses only do it out when required for survival.

You’ll also see this behavior in other wild herbivores like deer who will eat rodents or birds.

If the need arises, a desperate horse will try to catch a small animal and chomp it down. 

But a person will never see a pack of wild horses eating large dead animals. Horses are not predators with sharp teeth located on top of the food chain. 

They don’t travel in a herd for an advantage when hunting like wolves. Instead, they roam together to keep each other company and safe.

Horses left alone for significant periods can often suffer from depression. 

Can Horses Digest Meat? 

fresh meats with parsley on top: is meat safe for horses?

Horses can digest meat in smaller quantities, but their digestive systems aren’t designed for it.

As you know, horses are herbivores, and their body meant to process plant matter rather than meat. 

It’s evident in their flat teeth, which are built for chewing plants.

Carnivores are much different and feature sharper teeth or canine teeth meant for tearing wild animals apart. 

Another crucial difference is the size of an equine digestive system. It’s much larger and takes a longer time to digest food than you’d see with a carnivore. 

For instance, carnivores need food to move quickly through their bodies. Its digestive system will handle meat protein and material without any issues.

But a horse’s digestive system wasn’t set up with the same goal in mind. Their liver won’t flush out residue left behind by meat protein in an efficient manner.

In any case, most examples of meat-eating horses involve people feeding them it. It’s a rare occasion when a horse seeks out meat on their own.  

One common occurrence is Icelandic people feeding their horses dried fish to provide extra protein.

But many experts assume the meat-eating horses might be more attracted to the salt than the fish itself.

Check: Can Horses Eat Candy?

Is Meat Toxic to Horses? 

chopped fresh meats: can horses eat meat?

Meat isn’t toxic to horses, but it can pose a threat to their health.

The issue resides in meat and animal products often going bad quickly. 

In these situations, the spoiled meat might have toxins that can’t be destroyed by cooking.

It becomes a serious issue because horses are extremely sensitive to botulism. 

Botulism have a high fatality rate among horses when its left untreated.

A common way of them contracting the disease is by consuming horse feed contaminated with rodent or bird carcasses.

You should also know horses don’t have a defensive mechanism against eating dangerous foods.

They aren’t capable of vomiting like we can when eating something that doesn’t agree with them. 

Owners will have to seek out vet care when these situations arise. Otherwise, an issue like botulism could soon become a reality for your horse.

What Happens If A Horse Does Eat Meat?

If your domestic horse managed to get a hold of some meat, there’s no need to panic. Your horse will likely deal with it without any issue present itself. 

Horses are massive animals and a little bit of meat shouldn’t do them any harm. But again, this isn’t an excuse to be careless or feed it to them on purpose.

You need to make an effort of keeping meat-based foods away from them.

Horses are curious creatures and will make an attempt to snag a hot dog or cheeseburger when you aren’t looking. 

If you do notice side effects or an issue, please don’t waste time and call the vet immediately.

Your horse’s health is never something to mess around with, especially when the signs are noticeable.

Meat For Horses FAQs 

Can horses eat chicken nuggets?

Chicken nuggets might be safe for human consumption, but horses need to stay away. A good rule of them to follow is horses are strictly vegetarian and shouldn’t be fed meat or animal byproducts.

What meat do wild horses eat?

Mostly, wild horses eat “grass and brush”, but been known to eat small animals when desperate. Some of the potential victims include field mice, insects, and birds. But this adventure into meat is often the last resource when another source of food isn’t available. 

What food is bad for horses?

Most horse owners understand that “horses tend to have a “tricky” gastrointestinal system.” It leads to many foods being unsafe for them to eat. Here are a few examples: chocolate, avocado, pitted fruits, bread, potatoes, yogurt, and milk products.

Conclusion

Long story short, while a bite or two won’t prove fatal, no, horses cannot eat meat in general.

I hope our discussions on whether a horse can eat meat answered all your questions.

But if you still have a couple more, let us know in our comment section. Thanks for reading!

References:

  • “A List of Foods That Horses Can (and Should Not) Eat.” 2018. SaddleBox | the Monthly Box for Horse Owners. April 15, 2018. https://www.saddlebox.net/a-list-of-foods-that-horses-can-and-should-not-eat/.
  • “Botulism in Horses – Horse Owners.” n.d. Merck Veterinary Manual. Accessed June 9, 2021. https://merckvetmanual.com/horse-owners/disorders-affecting-multiple-body-systems-of-horses/botulism-in-horses.
  • “Can a Horse Vomit? No. Now Find out Why They Can’t.” n.d. Horse Racing Sense. Accessed June 9, 2021. https://horseracingsense.com/horses-cant-vomit-you-wondered-why.
  • “Digestive Anatomy and Physiology of the Horse.” n.d. Equine Science. https://www.extension.iastate.edu/equine/blog/dr-peggy-m-auwerda/digestive-anatomy-and-physiology-horse.
  • “Do Wild Horses Eat Meat?” 2019. Horse. October 9, 2019. https://mayonahorse.com/qa/do-wild-horses-eat-meat.html#what-meat-do-wild-horses-eat.
  • Mayo, Doug. 2018. “Understanding a Horse’s Digestive System.” Panhandle Agriculture. September 21, 2018. https://nwdistrict.ifas.ufl.edu/phag/2018/09/21/understanding-a-horses-digestive-system/.
  • “Understanding the Horse Digestive System – SmartPak.” 2019. SmartPak Equine. 2019. https://www.smartpakequine.com/content/horse-digestion.
  • Williams, Carey A. 2019. “The Basics of Equine Behavior | Equine Science Center.” Rutgers.edu. 2019. https://esc.rutgers.edu/fact_sheet/the-basics-of-equine-behavior/.
lady with cowboy hat feeding brown horses

Can horses eat meat? What are your thoughts about this? Share with us in the comments below!

Ben R.
Ben R.

My name is Ben Roberts, and I absolutely love animals. So, naturally, I love writing about them too! I have three dogs and one old cat, plus experience with horses. Each one of them provides me with a new adventure every day. And the best part is they’re all best friends. Well, except the cat when he gets a little annoyed. FIND HIM ON: TWITTER.
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