Can Horses Eat Pine Needles? Are They Safe or Dangerous?

Can horses eat pine needles? A good question to ask if you live in a region where pine trees are common.

There are 120 different species of pine trees around the world.

Pine trees keep their greenery year-round, making them a good option for pasture shelter.

But let’s find out if it’s safe to have these trees near your horses!

Related: Can Horses Eat Carrot Tops? [Benefits + More]

Can Horses Eat Pine Needles?

a hairy horse eating grasses beside yellow wild flowers: can horses eat pine needles instead?

The not so simple answer to whether horses can eat pine is – sometimes.

Are pine trees poisonous to horses? While some pine needles won’t harm your horse, twenty types of common pine trees have toxic needles.

If you plan to establish pastures where your horses can access pine needles, do a thorough evaluation of the trees on your property.

If you are unsure of the type of pine trees you have, call in an expert to help you identify them.

It is also important to note that pine trees with toxic needles not only affect horses but other livestock including cattle, sheep, and goats.

If you live on a ranch, especially if you are breeding these animals, you must take extra precautions.

Are Pine Needles Toxic to Horses?

pine needles

Several types of pine needles are toxic to horses.

But it’s not just the needles that can cause serious problems. The bark and branches can also be unsafe for horses to eat.

The pine tree that poses the most serious risk to horses is the Ponderosa.

This tree is also known as the Blackjack Pine, Western Yellow Pine, Rock Pine, and Bull Pine. It is a native North American tree.

It is commonly found in the western half of the United States and Canada.

It is one of the largest pine tree species and can reach a height of 250-feet. The Ponderosa produces 5-inch pine cones and thick pine needles.

Other pine trees to watch out for are the Norfolk Pine (Australian pine), Yew pine (Japanese Yew), Monterey pine, and the Lodgepole pine.

Ponderosa Pine (Blackjack) Poisoning 

While all horses can get sick from eating pine needles from Ponderosa pine trees, pregnant animals are at the most risk.

Pregnant mares that eat pine needles from this tree can abort, miscarry, or give birth prematurely.

Even if a small amount of pine is eaten, the effects can be devastating. If a mare eats pine needles in the first trimester, there is a lower risk of abortion.

In all horses that eat Blackjack pine needles, effects can range from mild stomach pain to convulsions or even paralysis. A miscarriage can occur within two to twelve days after ingestion.

Other symptoms of poisoning from horses eating pine include:

  • mucus discharge and contractions in pregnant mares,
  • convulsions,
  • renal lesions (signs include excessive thirst and urination, and edema)
  • and in very rare occurrences, death.

The ventral nervous system can also be affected by eating pine needles from the Ponderosa.

Signs of this include:

  • drooling,
  • lack of coordination,
  • confusion,
  • and head pressing.

What Makes Ponderosa Pines Toxic

There are two theories as to the exact cause of toxicity, a pimaric acid chemical found in all parts of the tree and the bacterium, listeria.

It is thought that listeria causes miscarriage.

Check this video for a quick recap:

What to do if Your Horse Eats Pine Needles

If you suspect your horse has Blackjack pine poisoning seek veterinary attention immediately.

Give your vet as much information as possible about why you suspect your horse ate pine needles and its health history.

The vet will need to carry out a thorough physical examination and blood tests.

Fortunately, there is a treatment protocol your vet can implement if your horse is sick from eating pine needles.

The first step is to carry out a gastric lavage to help decontaminate the horse, followed by activated charcoal to absorb any toxins.

IV fluids will get given to the horse to help flush the kidneys and tackle dehydration.

Some horses may need oxygen to combat respiratory distress. Several different medications may be administered, including bute for pain.

It is likely that the horse will need to spend a few days at the veterinary hospital for treatment and evaluation.

Depending on the severity of the poisoning, recovery is possible. The most worrying complication is kidney damage.

Kidney damage can have the long-term effect of shortening the horse’s lifespan.

Related: Can Horses Eat Parsnips?

Why Do Horses Eat Pine?

two whiter horses eating on a grass field

The main reasons horses eat pine is boredom and lack of other more appealing food sources.

If your paddock lacks grass or enough supplemented hay, the horse will seek out other food options.

This includes tree bark, branches, leaves, and pine needles.

If your horse is alone, it may start biting trees as a way to entertain itself.

Finally, a horse might eat pine needles that fall on the ground while grazing.

Final Words

While many pine trees are safe for horses, several common species are toxic.

In some cases, the symptoms are so mild, you may not even notice a problem. However, the risk of abortion or severe illness is not worth taking.

Before exposing your horse to pine trees, identify what ones are on your property to ensure they are safe.

If you do have a toxic tree consider removing it.

horses eating leaves

What do you think of our answer to “Can horses eat pine needles?” please share with us your thoughts!

Siun L
Siun L

Siun is an all-around animal lover, with a passion for horses. She grew up in the United States, competing in the hunters, equitation, and jumpers. Now living in Ireland, she competes with her own showjumping horses. She is experienced in the care and training of horses, as well as teaching riding lessons. She loves to combine her love for horses with her work. When not working, Siun will be found at the stables, rain or shine.
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