Last Updated on February 23, 2022
We all like to give our horses a treat, and you might think that your horse would enjoy a piece of chocolate. But can horses have chocolate, or is it bad for them?
Can Horses Eat Chocolate?
For many of us, chocolate is one of the ultimate treat foods. Whether you enjoy nibbling on a chunk of dark chocolate, supping on a frothy chocolate milkshake, or wolfing down a bar of milk chocolate, this sweet treat is enjoyed by people all around the world.
If you’re out on a long ride with your horse or working away at yard chores, you might be tempted to let your horse share your chocolate. As we all know, horses have a sweet tooth, and would most likely tuck into your chocolatey treat straight away!
But can horses have chocolate treats, or will they get sick? Unfortunately, just because your horse would willingly eat your chocolate bar – and most likely finish it off – it is not a good idea to feed chocolate to horses.
Is Chocolate Bad For Horses?
Chocolate contains a chemical called theobromine, which is not poisonous to humans. However, this chemical can cause serious health problems to some animals, including horses and dogs. So, while most people know that dogs should not eat chocolate, it is also not a good idea for horses to eat chocolate either!
It is very unusual for a horse to eat enough chocolate to cause serious harm, as they would need to eat it in large amounts. However, a common form of poisoning in horses does occur as a result of horses being bedded on cocoa-bean hulls, a by-product of the chocolate making process.
Chocolate is also packed full of sugar, and is a calorie-dense treat. The natural diet for horses consists of low-calorie foods such as grass and hay. Feeding sugary foods can be very detrimental, particularly if the horse is overweight or has insulin resistance.
The other reason that horses can not have chocolate is that it contains caffeine. The amount of caffeine in chocolate varies, with dark chocolate containing the highest amounts.
What Happens If You Feed Horses Chocolate?
If a horse is fed a small amount of chocolate, it is unlikely that you would see any detrimental effects. However, chocolate fed in larger amounts or on a regular basis can cause serious harm to horses.
Firstly, the effect of theobromine can cause a wide range of clinical symptoms, including diarrhea, a distended abdomen, and abdominal discomfort. If left untreated, the animal may become unsteady on its feet, and start to display neurological signs such as seizures. If left untreated, theobromine toxicity can lead to death due to cardiac dysfunction.
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If that isn’t enough to put you off feeding chocolate to your horse, let’s take a look at the effects of caffeine! As in humans, caffeine is a central nervous stimulant in horses. For this reason, caffeine supplements are now banned in racehorses.
It is not a good idea to feed chocolate to horses anyway, but if your horse is likely to compete in an event where drug testing takes place then make sure that he can not access any chocolate.
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And finally, we have the calorie problem. Chocolate is high in fat and sugar, both of which are not a normal part of a horse’s natural diet. Regular feeding of chocolate to horses could lead to obesity, or cause damage to the teeth.
The high sugar content of chocolate also makes it unsuitable for horses suffering from laminitis, or those with equine metabolic syndrome. The sudden intake of a large amount of sugar will disrupt normal blood glucose and insulin levels.
So, all in all, it seems that feeding chocolate to horses is not a good idea! So next time you are out on a trail ride with your horse, pack some healthier horse-friendly snacks instead.
What Are The Best Treats For Horses?
There are many treats that horses enjoy, and the healthiest ones are those closest to their natural diet. The horse evolved to eat a diet that consisted of large amounts of low-sugar roughage, to be chewed over a long period of time. So, as much as your horse might enjoy sweets and chocolate, there are many other treats that he will also enjoy!
The best treats for horses are low-sugar and high-fiber vegetables, such as carrots and pumpkins. They will also enjoy fruits, particularly apples, strawberries, melons, and pears.
Whatever treat you decide to give your horse, make sure it is prepared correctly and given in moderation. Too much of anything will upset the horse’s sensitive digestive system, potentially causing abdominal distension, colic, or diarrhea. Tough skin or peel should be removed from fruits and vegetables, or washed to remove harmful chemicals.
Veterinarians advise that a horse should be given no more than a cupful of any type of treat per day. The horse’s gastrointestinal system is designed to eat mainly grass and hay, and anything unusual can cause big problems. If you are trying a new treat with your horse, start off with just one or two small pieces initially.
One great way to make a nice treat for your horse is by making a horsey snack bar. These are very much like cereal bars for humans, but baked with horses in mind! Suitable ingredients for a baked treat for your horse include porridge oats, honey, grated apple, and sunflower seeds.
Summary – Can Horses Have Chocolate?
So, as we have learned, horses can not have chocolate because it contains a substance called theobromine, and it is also high in caffeine and sugar. If eaten by horses, chocolate can cause toxicity leading to kidney failure. Other healthier treats for horses include apples, carrots, and homemade horse treats.
We’d love to hear your thoughts on can horses have chocolate! Has your horse ever had a sneaky nibble at your chocolate bar? Or perhaps your pony enjoys another more unusual treat? Leave a comment below and we’ll get back to you!
Kate Chalmers is a qualified veterinary nurse who has specialized in horse care for the vast majority of her career. She has been around horses since she was a child, starting out riding ponies and helping out at the local stables before going on to college to study Horse Care & Management. She has backed and trained many horses during her lifetime and competed in various equestrian sports at different levels.
After Kate qualified as a veterinary nurse, she provided nursing care to the patients of a large equine veterinary hospital for many years. She then went on to teach horse care and veterinary nursing at one of the top colleges in the country. This has led to an in-depth knowledge of the care needs of horses and their various medical ailments, as well as a life-long passion for educating horse owners on how to provide the best possible care for their four-legged friends.
Kate Chalmers BSc (Hons) CVN, Dip AVN (Equine) Dip HE CVN EVN VN A1 PGCE