Last Updated on April 29, 2022
Have you ever wondered why do horses eat tree bark and wood? If you see your horse chewing on tree bark, is this natural behavior or something to be concerned about? Let’s find out!
Why Do Horses Eat Tree Bark?
There are several different reasons why horses might eat tree bark. Some of these are perfectly natural, and nothing to worry about. Other reasons might indicate that your horse is lacking in a particular type of nutrition, or that they are exhibiting behavioral abnormalities.
If a horse eats a small amount of tree bark, this can be normal behavior. Although we most commonly associate horses with eating grass and hay, they are actually herbivores that eat a wide range of plant matter. So, as well as grazing on grass, a horse will naturally eat other plants, shrubs, bushes, and even tree bark.
This should make up a very small amount of the horse’s daily food intake, and if your horse is stripping the bark of an entire tree or spending many hours chewing bark, he may have a problem.
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Dietary Inadequacies – Why Do Horses Eat Tree Bark
There are two main dietary inadequacies that can cause a horse to eat an excessive amount of bark on trees. The first of these is a lack of roughage in the diet, so the horse eats bark to compensate for this.
Horses are uniquely adapted to eat large quantities of roughage every day – this is grass, hay, and other fibrous material. This is vital not only for nutrition but also to maintain the healthy functioning of the equine digestive system. If the horse does not have access to enough grass and hay, it will start to eat other sources of fiber such as tree bark and wood instead.
The other reason why horses may eat bark on trees is to get essential vitamins and minerals. This can happen if the grazing is inadequate, or the hay is of poor quality.
Why do horses eat tree bark? If a horse is not provided with sufficient environmental enrichment, it may attempt to make its own entertainment. Horses are sociable and playful animals, and will soon become bored if they do not have the opportunity to explore, play, and socialize. When a horse is bored, it will seek out other ways to gain mental stimulation.
Repetitive chewing is one way in which a horse may attempt to soothe itself, and chewing on bark is one way in which it may choose to do this. However, this can be a hard habit to break, and it should be discouraged.
If your horse is chewing bark and wood through boredom and stress, look at ways to make his environment more interesting. This could include the use of play balls and treat toys, and ensuring he has enough turnout time to fulfill his emotional needs.
Should You Stop Your Horse From Eating Tree Bark?
If a horse is continuously chewing tree bark, this may be detrimental to his health. This abnormal behavior may cause dental problems or gastrointestinal blockages. It is also a sign that he is unhappy or not receiving the correct nutrition, so this should be rectified immediately.
The other problem is that chewing on tree bark is not very good for the tree! Stripping the bark from a tree can significantly slow down the growth of the tree, and even kill it altogether. Once the bark has been eaten by a horse the tree might never recover fully, so it is a good idea to prevent this behavior from occurring in the first place.
If you have a lot of trees in your field, then one or two bark-eating horses might not do much damage, but it is a good idea to keep an eye on how much they are eating. If the bark chewing levels are getting excessive, you can use fencing to separate the horses from the trunks of the trees. They will still be able to nibble on overhanging branches, but the main part of the tree will be protected.
Summary – Why Do Horses Eat Tree Bark
So, as we have learned, the reason why horses do eat tree bark is complex and varies from horse to horse. Some may do it as natural behavior, gaining essential nutrients from the bark. Others may eat tree bark because they are bored, or lacking in certain nutrients in their diet. If your horse is constantly chewing on tree bark, you may want to seek the advice of a veterinary nutritionist or behaviorist.
We’d love to hear your thoughts on why do horses eat tree bark! Do you find it difficult to stop your horse from chewing on tree bark and wood? Or perhaps you know the best way to supplement your horse’s diet so they are not tempted to eat tree bark? Leave a comment below and we’ll get back to you!
Is Tree Bark Harmful To Horses?
Small quantities of tree bark are not harmful to horses, but if the horse eats a large amount it may become impacted in his gastrointestinal system. Soft bark is not normally a problem for horses, but hard bark and wood can cause dental issues.
Do Wild Horses Eat Bark?
Wild horses do eat bark, and this is a useful way for them to get essential roughage and nutrients in their diet. Eating bark can help a wild horse to supplement their diet of grass and other plants, helping to keep them healthy and free from disease.
What Are Horses Lacking When They Eat Wood?
If a horse starts to eat wood, it is normally lacking in essential nutrients or roughage. This problem can be stopped by adding a complete feed balancer to the daily diet, and ensuring that the supply of hay or forage is sufficient to last all day.
How Do I Stop My Horse From Chewing Wood?
To stop a horse from chewing wood, you first need to eliminate the initial reason why he is doing so. After this, you can use barrier creams with a bitter taste to help him break the chewing habit. You can also prevent him from chewing wood by using electric wire or metal cladding to protect the wood.
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
Kate Chalmers BSc (Hons) CVN, Dip AVN (Equine) Dip HE CVN REVN RVN A1