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Do Horses Eat Meat?

Do Horses Eat Meat

Imagine you’re strolling through a lush meadow, and there, grazing peacefully, is a horse. Now, picture that same horse chomping down on a piece of steak. 

Sounds odd, doesn’t it? After all, horses are the epitome of a vegetarian lifestyle, always munching on grass and hay. 

But what if I told you there are rare instances of these creatures being spotted eating meat? It’s not just a quirky fact; it opens up a fascinating discussion about what horses can and cannot eat. 

So, let’s dive into the curious world of horse diets and discover whether a horse can taste meat.

Do Horses Eat Meat?

No, horses do not typically eat meat. They are herbivores, which means they eat plants. 

Their whole body, especially their digestive system, is set up to handle a grass, hay, and grains diet. But there are some rare stories out there about horses eating meat under unusual circumstances. 

It’s not the norm or recommended, but it’s fascinating to consider why these exceptions might occur. 

Are Horses Omnivores?

No, horses are not omnivores. They are herbivores, which means they eat plants. Their bodies are built to digest grass, hay, and other plant materials. 

While there might be rare stories of horses eating meat, these are exceptions, not the rule. Horses thrive on a fiber-rich diet, and their long digestive tracts are specially designed to break down. 

So, sticking to what’s natural for them is traditional and essential for their health.

Do Horses Need Meat?

No, horses don’t need meat. Their bodies are designed to get all the nutrients they need from plants. 

They have a digestive system that’s perfect for breaking down grass, hay, and grains. Feeding meat to a horse isn’t just unnecessary. It can actually be harmful, disrupting their digestion and causing health issues. 

So, stick to a plant-based diet, which keeps them healthy and happy.

7 Reasons Why Horses Eat Meat

Horses eat meat for various reasons. These include:

Cold and harsh climate

Traditional food sources for horses, haylage and hay, can be hard to come by in extremely cold and harsh environments. Under these conditions, caretakers may feed their horses whatever is available. This might include meat or fish. 

However, this isn’t ideal or part of a horse’s natural diet. Still, in survival situations, it’s about providing calories in any form to keep the animals alive and maintain their energy levels. 

Adding meat in these cases is a practical response to a challenging environment where plant-based food is scarce.

As a supplement

In some instances, horse owners might believe that adding meat to a horse’s diet could enhance their health. While mainstream veterinary science does not support feeding meat to horses, some owners use animal-based products like fish oil as dietary supplements. 

These are thought to provide benefits such as improved coat quality and joint health. However, you must remember that the horse’s digestive system is not designed to process meat, and regular consumption can lead to health issues.


In wartime, the usual rules for feeding horses can be difficult to follow. Horses used in military campaigns often had to survive on whatever was available.

This practice was born out of necessity rather than preference. In such times, maintaining a horse’s stamina and health was crucial for mobility and logistics in war. 

The use of meat as feed during these times reflects the harsh realities of sustaining cavalry units far from conventional supply lines.

As an accident

Sometimes, horses consume meat accidentally. This can occur if meat waste is mistakenly mixed into their feed or if a horse, driven by curiosity, nibbles on discarded meat. 

While these incidents are rare, they highlight the importance of maintaining a controlled and clean feeding environment for horses. This is aimed at preventing the unintended consumption of inappropriate or harmful substances.

Because it’s salty

Like many animals, horses have a natural appetite for salt, an essential mineral for their health. If meat, especially if it’s cured or salted, is left within their reach, they might be tempted to lick or chew it simply to satisfy their salt craving. 

This behavior isn’t about a preference for meat but rather an attraction to the salt it contains. Providing adequate mineral supplements in their diet can help prevent horses from seeking out unconventional and unsafe salt sources like salted meats.


Horses are curious by nature and often explore their surroundings with their mouths. This exploratory behavior can sometimes lead them to taste non-traditional items, including meat. 

Curiosity-driven consumption does not indicate a dietary need or preference. It’s simply a part of how horses interact with their environment, using their sense of taste to distinguish between different objects and substances they encounter.


Boredom can lead horses to engage in abnormal eating behaviors, known as pica. This is where they chew on nearly anything they can find, including pieces of meat if they are accessible. 

Providing sufficient mental and physical stimulation is crucial for horses. Engaging toys, regular exercise, and social interaction with other horses can help prevent boredom.

This will discourage the development of habits like eating inappropriate materials, including meat.

Read also: How to prevent boredom in horses.

What Meat Do Horses Eat?

Horses may eat some of the following types of meat:

Small animals

It might be hard to imagine, but horses might sometimes eat small animals if they come across them. This usually happens not because they’re hunting but because they’re curious or accidentally ingest them while grazing. 

Small animals like birds or rodents can end up in a horse’s feed or water by chance, and the horse might eat them without meaning. It’s not a normal part of their diet at all.


Fish isn’t a typical food for horses, but there are rare instances where horses have been fed fish. This is especially in regions where other food sources are scarce. It can also happen in places where fish is a common part of human diets and scraps might be more readily available. 

Feeding fish to horses is more about using available resources rather than meeting a dietary preference of the horse.

Human food

Horses often eat human food accidentally or when their owners offer them treats. While some human foods can be safe in small quantities, meat should not be a regular treat. 

A horse might eat meat scraps from a barbecue or dinner out of curiosity or because it enjoys the taste, especially if the food is seasoned or salty. 

However, just because they might eat it doesn’t mean it’s good for them. Sticking to safer treats like fruits or specially made horse treats is best.

Health Implications Of Horses Eating Meat

Feeding meat to horses isn’t just unusual, it can actually be harmful. Here’s why. 

Horses are herbivores. Their digestive system is designed to break down fibrous plant material, not protein-rich meat. 

When a horse eats meat, it can mess up their digestion. This can lead to all sorts of health problems like stomach pain, indigestion, and even more serious conditions like colic. These issues aren’t just uncomfortable for the horse; they can be life-threatening.

Moreover, horses’ long digestive tracts aren’t equipped to handle bacteria that are often found in meat. This can increase the risk of food poisoning, which can be really serious for them. 

Plus, meat doesn’t provide any nutritional benefits that horses can’t get from their regular plant-based diet. So, there’s really no good reason to give meat to a horse.

In short, sticking to a diet that’s natural for them—rich in grasses, hay, and grains—is the best way to keep a horse healthy. It’s better to avoid experimenting with meat as it could lead to unnecessary and potentially severe health issues.

Anatomy Of A Horse’s Digestive System

A horse’s digestive system is uniquely adapted to processing plant material. Here’s how their system is structured and functions, emphasizing its specialization for a herbivorous diet:

Mouth and teeth. Horses have a set of strong, flat teeth designed for grinding grass and other fibrous materials. Their incisors cut the grass, and their large molars crush and grind it before swallowing. Saliva, which contains enzymes like amylase, starts digestion by moistening the food and initiating the breakdown of carbohydrates.

Esophagus. The esophagus is the tube that connects the mouth to the stomach. In horses, it only allows food to move in one direction, which means that horses cannot vomit. 

Stomach. Horses have a relatively small stomach for their size, making up about 10% of the digestive system. It functions best when small amounts of feed are consumed throughout the day. The stomach secretes acids and enzymes that begin the protein digestion process, but its small size limits the amount of feed it can process at one time.

Small intestine. The small intestine is where most of the digestion and absorption of nutrients occurs. Enzymes from the pancreas and bile from the liver aid in breaking down proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. Nutrients are absorbed through the walls of the small intestine into the bloodstream. This part of the digestive tract is critical for the horse’s ability to extract energy from its food.

Cecum and large colon. The cecum is a large fermentation vat where microbial digestion of fibrous plant material occurs. Bacteria in the cecum break cellulose into volatile fatty acids, which horses then use as energy sources. The large colon continues this process of fermentation and absorbs water and nutrients. This section of the digestive system is crucial because horses’ ability to digest fiber and other tough plant materials depends on its health and efficiency of their microbial population.

Small colon and rectum. The remaining nutrients are absorbed in the small colon, and the waste material begins to solidify as it loses more water. The rectum then holds the waste material until it is expelled as manure.

Nutritional Needs Of Horses

Feeding horses is about providing a balanced diet that meets their nutritional needs. Keeping the following components in check helps ensure that horses stay healthy and energetic.


Forage is the foundation of a horse’s diet. This includes grass, hay, and haylage. 

It’s packed with fiber, which is crucial for a horse’s digestive system to function properly. Horses are designed to graze, eating small amounts of forage throughout the day. 

This keeps their digestive system moving and helps prevent issues like ulcers and colic.


Concentrates, like grains and commercial feeds, are used to supplement a horse’s diet. This is mostly needed in working horses or pregnant mares. 

These feeds provide extra calories and nutrients that forage alone might not supply enough of, such as protein, fat, and energy. 

However, you need to balance them carefully with forage to avoid digestive problems.


Water is absolutely vital. Horses need a constant supply to stay healthy. They can drink anywhere from 5 to 10 gallons a day, even more when it’s hot or they’re exercising a lot. 

Water aids digestion, helps regulate body temperature, and is essential for almost every function in their body.

Read also: How long can a horse go without water?

Minerals and vitamins

Minerals and vitamins are key to a horse’s health. They need a range of minerals like calcium and phosphorus for strong bones and teeth, and salt for fluid balance and nerve function. 

Vitamins are crucial for metabolic processes. For instance, Vitamin A is important for vision and immune function, and B vitamins are vital for energy metabolism. 

Often, a well-balanced diet provides these, but supplements might be needed based on the horse’s health, the quality of their forage, and their activity level.

Common Misconceptions About Equine Diets

These are the common misconceptions about horse diets: 

Horses can eat anything. A lot of people think horses can eat anything. But that’s not true. Horses have sensitive digestive systems. Feeding them things like lawn clippings or spoiled food can make them really sick. They’re not garbage disposals; they need clean, specific diets.

More grain is better. Another common idea is that more grain means more energy. But too much grain can lead to serious problems like colic or laminitis. Horses need a balance. Too much of anything, even a good thing, can be harmful.

Horses need lots of supplements. People often think horses need lots of supplements to be healthy. While some horses do need supplements, many get what they need from a balanced diet of forage and grains. Over-supplementing can cause more problems than it solves.

Horses should eat once a day. Some folks feed their horses once a day like they might feed a dog or cat. But horses are grazers by nature. They’re happiest and healthiest when they can eat small amounts throughout the day. It keeps their digestive system running smoothly.

All horses eat the same diet. Finally, there’s the idea that all horses can eat the same thing. But just like people, horses are individuals. What works for one might not work for another. Age, work level, health—these all play a part in what a horse should eat.

Myths About Horses Eating Meat

Myth 1: Horses naturally crave meat 

There’s a myth that horses might naturally crave meat like predators do. But the truth is, horses are herbivores. Their bodies and behaviors are tailored for plant-based diets, not meat. They don’t go looking for meat to eat; they’re much more interested in a nice patch of grass.

Myth 2: Meat gives horses extra energy 

Some people think feeding meat can give horses extra energy, especially for working horses. However, horses get their energy efficiently from carbohydrates in their plant-based diets. Meat isn’t just unnecessary; it can actually disrupt their digestive system.

Myth 3: Wild horses eat meat for survival 

Another myth is that wild horses will eat meat to survive tough conditions. While survival instincts can lead to unusual behaviors, consistent observations of wild horses show they stick to a herbivorous diet. Eating meat is not a natural part of their survival strategy.

Myth 4: Meat helps with muscle building 

It’s also falsely believed that meat can help build muscle mass in horses. In reality, horses build muscle from proteins found in plants and specially formulated equine feeds. These sources contain all the necessary amino acids horses need without the risks meat can pose.

Myth 5: Horses can digest meat easily 

Finally, there’s the myth that horses can easily digest meat. Their digestive systems are not designed to handle high-protein, low-fiber content like meat. This can lead to health issues such as colic and indigestion, proving that meat is not suitable for equine diets.


Is meat toxic for horses?

Meat is not inherently toxic to horses, but their digestive systems are not designed to process it efficiently. Consuming meat can lead to digestive issues such as indigestion and colic. Prolonged or frequent consumption of meat can cause serious health problems.

Is it ethical to feed horses meat or animal-based products?

Feeding horses meat or animal-based products is considered unethical by due to the nature of a horse’s natural diet. Ethical considerations also include the health risks associated with feeding meat to horses, as it can lead to significant health issues. 

Can horses digest meat efficiently?

Horses cannot digest meat efficiently due to their evolutionary development as herbivores. Their long digestive tract is specialized for fermenting fibrous plant material, not for breaking down protein-rich meat. Feeding horses meat can lead to inefficient digestion and may result in health complications, indicating that their system is not adapted for meat consumption.


So, can horses eat meat? Technically, yes, they can, but they really shouldn’t. Horses are herbivores, designed to munch on grass and hay, not steaks and burgers. 

Feeding meat to a horse goes against their natural dietary needs and can lead to serious health issues. It’s like fitting a square peg into a round hole—it just doesn’t work. 

Let’s stick to what’s best for these animals. Keep the meat for carnivores and let horses thrive on their greens. 

After all, a happy horse is a healthy horse, grazing in their natural habitat, just as nature intended.

Picture of Dr. Noman Tariq

Dr. Noman Tariq

Dr. Noman Tariq, a seasoned veterinarian with a DVM from ARID University and an MPhil in Animal Nutrition from UVAS, specializes in equine health. His deep passion for horse nutrition and well-being drives his work, offering invaluable advice for horse owners. Dr. Tariq's expertise ensures horses lead vibrant, healthy lives.
You can read my full bio here

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Do Horses Eat Meat?