Do Horses Chew Cud Like Cows? Amazing Horse Digestion Facts Revealed!

Last Updated on May 18, 2022

If you’ve ever watched a horse eating, you will notice that they like to chew their food a lot. But do horses chew cud like cows, or is their food digested in other ways? Let’s find out some amazing facts about the impressive digestive system of the horse!

Do Horses Chew Cud?

Before we approach the question of do horses chew cud, firstly lets figure out exactly what we mean by chewing cud.

Chewing cud is a process that some herbivore animals use to help them digest food. They take in food through their mouth, chewing it enough to moisten it before it travels down to the stomach. When the animal is at rest, this partially digested food is then sent back up to the mouth, where the animal spends time chewing it more thoroughly.

The reason for chewing food twice is that it helps the digestive system process the food more efficiently. The type of food eaten by herbivores – grass, hay, and other plants – tends to be very fibrous, and not easy to digest. Food that has been softened in the stomach for a short while can then be chewed more thoroughly, making it easier to digest.

So, seeing as they eat a lot of grass and hay, do horses chew cud? The answer is no, horses do not chew their cud!

Horses have evolved with a very different digestive system to animals that chew their cud. Once a horse has chewed and swallowed food, it cannot then be transported back up to the mouth.

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Why Do Horses Not Chew Cud?

The digestive system of a horse is very different from animals that chew their cud. Animals that chew their cud are normally classed as ruminants, while horses are hindgut fermenters.

Ruminant animals digest fibrous plant matter by fermenting it in a specialist stomach prior to digestion, and chewing the cud is part of this process. This means that as the partially digested food travels through the digestive system, all the available nutrients can be extracted.

You may see horses chewing their food very thoroughly, as this is part of the digestive process. Horses have an impressive and very efficient set of teeth, that can crush and grind grass and hay into balls of moist, soft food. However, once swallowed, this food passes straight into the stomach, and will not be regurgitated to chew again.

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How Do Horses Digest Food?

Horses are not ruminants and do not ferment food in their stomachs. Instead, the food that a horse eats passes quickly through the stomach and small intestine, where minimal digestion takes place. The main section of the gastrointestinal tract responsible for digestion in horses is the large intestine, which is a complex and highly efficient set of organs.

Within the large intestine of the horse is a large blind-ended sac called the caecum. This is where fibrous matter is broken down through a process of fermentation. The fermented food then passes into the next section of the large intestine, where the nutrients are extracted and metabolized by the body.

The large intestine of the horse is an enormous part of the digestive system, and food can take up to three days to pass through the whole gastrointestinal system. Horses carry a large bulk of food around in their large intestine as it is being processed.

The process of hindgut fermentation has other benefits for the horse. This process creates huge amounts of heat, which can help to keep the horse warm. Kind of like an internal central heating system!

For this system to work efficiently, it needs a constant steady supply of fibrous material. Horses are trickle grazers and will spend up to 16 hours per day eating grass. However, modern-day domesticated horses often spend far less time grazing or eating hay, and this can have a detrimental effect on the digestive system.

How Do Horses Digest Food

Many of the health problems seen in modern-day horses are a result of the unnatural conditions they are kept in, and their body systems are not able to cope with them. To keep our horses in the best possible condition, it is vital to allow them to keep to a natural routine, with as much access to grass and time to roam freely as possible.

Summary – Do Horses Chew Cud

So, as we have learned, the answer to do horses chew cud is a resounding no. Horses are not like cows, and they have very different digestive system. Horses cannot regurgitate food or chew their cud, and instead, they mainly digest food in the large intestine.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on do horses chew cud! Do you have a horse that likes to chew on everything? Or maybe you’ve got a question about how the horse digestive system functions? Leave a comment below and we’ll get back to you!


What Animals Chew Their Cud?

The animals most well known for chewing their cud are cattle and sheep. Chewing cud is the name for a process where an animal regurgitates food to chew it more thoroughly, after it has been semi-digested in a specialized stomach. Other types of ruminants that chew their cud include deer, camels, buffalo, goats, sheep, and giraffes.

Are Horses Monogastric Or Ruminants?

Horses are monogastric animals, which means they only have one stomach. Ruminants have a series of stomachs, enabling them to ferment food as it enters the digestive tract. The horse is a hindgut fermenter, meaning that food is mainly digested in the large intestine at the end of the digestive tract.

Why Are Ruminant Animals Different From Other Animals?

Ruminant animals are able to digest plant material more efficiently than other herbivores, as they can extract the maximum amount of nutritional value from the food that they eat.

What Do Horses Chew?

When horses eat, they chew their food very thoroughly, into a soft ball. This is worked along the molar teeth towards the back of the mouth, aided by the tongue. As the food is chewed, the salivary glands excrete saliva which softens the food and begins the digestive process.