Do Horses Ever Eat Meat?
Horses are herbivores but there is evidence to suggest that they will eat meat and fish. When a video of a horse eating a baby chick went viral online, many people began asking if horses are meat eaters after all.
To fan the flames, a book entitled 'Deadly Equines, The Shocking True Story of Meat-Eating & Murderous Horses' was published in 2011. In his book, author CuChullaine O’Reilly claims that horses can be vicious meat eaters. The book recounts the story of two horses called Bucephalus and Alexander. Bucephalus was allegedly fed with raw meat and was the off-spring of the meat-eating mares.
All this might all seem a little weird but in Iceland, horses are routinely fed dried fish throughout the winter for extra protein. During Scott’s expedition to the Antarctic the ponies he used were fed fish meal with their rations. Beef gelatine and bone meal are often included in products aimed at improving hoof growth and Tibetan horses are fed a mixture of grain and blood.
In addition, most equestrians will have encountered horses stealing bites of sandwiches and burgers. Some people may have seen horses killing small animals, although this is usually to expel pesky intruders and can even be playful behaviour.
Should we be taking a closer look at our horses’ diets?
Almost certainly not!
Should Horses Eat Meat?
Horses have delicate digestive systems which are geared up to process plant matter and not meat. It should be remembered that horses cannot vomit and that moulds and toxins which build up in their digestive systems can be fatal. Meat in small quantities might not prove to be problematic but larger quantities could lead to serious health issues.
Most accounts of horses eating meat involve the horses being fed meat and not horses seeking it out. In many cases the meat and fish matter is hidden in other foods. In the case of the Icelandic dried fish, it could well be the salt that the horses relish, not the fish. Horses do eat meat and fish but there is no evidence that they would choose to.
The Equine Digestive System
Horses simply aren’t set up to process meat. They have flat teeth for chewing plant material. Carnivores, on the other hand, have pointed teeth for shredding meat. The equine digestive system is long whereas a carnivore’s is short to move food through quickly. A horse’s liver isn’t designed to flush out the residues of meat protein.
Whilst horses may be prepared to eat meat and some might even appear to enjoy it, there is no evidence that meat should feature in their diet. Some horses might steal a bit of your hot dog and that probably won’t do them any harm. However, horses shouldn’t really be encouraged to eat meat as it could cause them harm. As with most things in life it is better to be safe than sorry. Horses can and will eat meat but that doesn’t mean that it’s a healthy option!