Are Horses Carnivores

Bob Roberts
• Saturday, 19 December, 2020
• 21 min read

A horse’s diet generally consists of hay, grass and concentrates, such as grain. In addition, horses enjoy many fruits and vegetables as treats, such as carrots, apples, bananas, watermelons and sweet potatoes.

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Most horses eat hay and some form of concentrates a day, such as grain or pelleted feed. They generally get concentrates one to two times a day, with the amount and type varying with each horse.

The gastrointestinal tract in horses is designed to regularly be ingesting small amounts of food all throughout the day. Non-ruminant herbivores are designed to consume a high fiber, low starch diets by foraging throughout the day.

This unlike other herbivores, such as cows, sheep, goats, and deer, that chew their cud. A horse will produce 20-80 liters of saliva a day, to aid in the process of digesting.

The stomach also digests protein and regulates the food that passes into the small intestine. Once in the small intestine, more digestion of protein happens, in addition to simple carbohydrates and fats.

The colon works to absorb nutrients and water that comes with food through the digestive tract. Some of the most common causes for colic are excess gas build up in the colon, dehydration, parasites, excessive intake of sand, stress, changes in diet, blockage in the digestion track and too much grain intake.

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Signs of colic include rolling, laying down, stretching, pawing, kicking, lack of fecal production, lack of interest in food and water, elevated heart rate and sweating. If your horse is showing any signs of colic, you want to notify your vet immediately.

While waiting for the vet to arrive, it is a good idea to walk your horse, as this stimulates gut movement and prevents any injuries from excessive rolling. A balanced diet and constant access to fresh water can help prevent colic in horses.

Since horses are herbivores, their diet largely consists of hay and grass. Horses also typically eat grain or other concentrates to help meet their dietary needs, and they also enjoy many types of fruits and vegetables as treats.

Horses have a unique digestive system and it is very important for them to maintain a proper diet in order for them to be healthy. Each horse is unique and will have a different feeding plan based on their age, weight, and exercise.

Equestrians are also abuzz about the book Deadly Equines: The Shocking True Story of Meat-Eating and Murderous Horses. Their entire digestive system is designed to process plant matter.

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We tend to organize everything into neat, tidy categories in our minds, so anything that deviates from the norm seems exciting. While many of these stories in Deadly Equines should be taken with a grain of salt, there is no denying meat is not off the table for horses (pun intended).

Viral videos of a horse eating a chick and a deer eating a bird, as well as the news story of deer scavenging on human corpses at a body farm in Texas, have understandably made a lot of people curious about what is going on. There are also omnivores that eat a little of everything and autotrophs, like plants and algae, that produce their own food.

In general, herbivores have flat teeth for grinding and long digestive systems, carnivores have sharper teeth for tearing meat and shorter digestive systems, and omnivores are somewhere in between. Lean, Mean, Green-Processing Machines The equine digestive system is excellent at turning grass into energy.

Horses teeth continually “erupt” throughout their life, as they are worn down from chewing tough plant matter. Ruminants, like cattle and sheep, use bacteria in their Rubens, a digestive chamber before the stomach, to ferment plant fiber.

In fact, horse stomachs hold a surprisingly small amount, empty quickly, and food passes through their bodies at a rate of about 1 foot per minute. Humans sometimes provide horses with alternate sources of energy, like grain, to give them a boost for harder work.

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A typical 1,000-pound horse that is just working on maintaining her body condition needs roughly 15,000 calories a day. A lush, green pasture averages 245 calories per pound, so you can see why horses can spend up to 17 hours per day grazing.

So, how come horses can’t simply eat less food overall if it has a higher calorie and nutrient density? Besides providing energy and nutrients, all of this roughage holds a great deal of water and the sheer mass fills up the horse’s enormous gut.

When a horse’s digestive tract is empty, they are more prone to twisting of the intestines and colic. They can also lose their water reservoir and develop diarrhea, which can result in dehydration.

Since horses were made to be constantly consuming forage, they aren’t set up to handle the feeling of an empty stomach, and they are not sure what to do with all that time they spend not chewing. This can result in sand colic, where the desperate horse spends time sweeping the surrounding ground in an effort to relieve hunger and boredom.

Horses may also turn to chewing wood or other vices like cribbing and weaving. If they were to consume something dangerous or poisonous, it would require prompt veterinary attention.

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Sure, they “can” process meat and get some energy and nutrients from it, but they have teeth that need grinding and a belly that needs to be kept full of fiber. The occasional snack of a bit of hot dog or slow chick with poor decision-making probably will not hurt them, but meat cannot be the foundation of a horse’s diet.

If horses are herbivores with a digestive system meant for plants, why are some of them eating meat? Many hooked animals, like cows and deer, are known to eat bones or antlers and some science points to a need for calcium as an explanation for this behavior.

Horses may eat sand, wood, manes/tails, and manure due to boredom or inadequate nutrients. Due to horses willingness to try different foods, they have been fed meat and animal products all over the world throughout history.

While horses in Iceland are generally kept on pasture, in the winter with supplemental hay, farmers may also place barrels of salted herring out for them. Exploration of Antarctica in the early 1900s made use of Siberian and Manchurian ponies to transport supplies.

These ponies were said to have eagerly eaten dried fish, blubber, and raw seal meat. Multiple reports of Tibetan horses from the 1800s through the 1900s said they were fed meat regularly and ones trained to eat it were more valuable.

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Lawn clippings can contain dangerous chemicals or weeds that the horse cannot pick out. Horses also have a tendency not to chew clippings, which can lead to choke, colic, or laminates.

Horses are lactose intolerant and dairy products run the risk of causing digestive upset. Meat does not have the correct nutrients to make up a significant portion of their diet.

Apple seeds produce hydrogen cyanide when chewed, which can be deadly in high enough doses. Carrots make an excellent treat, but should only be given in moderation since they do not contain the correct nutrient profile for horses to stay healthy.

Horses have herbivore digestive tracts and don’t need meat to survive. In fact, they require ample plant matter to stay healthy.

Horses may need up to 12 gallons of water per day, depending on their diet and environment. (Source) Some horses might avoid drinking dirty, icy, or strange tasting water, and they run the risk of developing impaction colic.

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Keep your horse’s water clean, easy to access, and at a reasonable temperature. What horses DO require is plenty of good quality roughage and clean water to keep their digestive systems running smoothly.

While taking questions from the audience at a one-day behavior program in New Zealand this May, a well-respected horse owner and trainer described behavior she had recently witnessed in a horse involving a scenario I had never heard or thought about. At a recent international meeting of horse behaviorists, I asked around about this behavior.

While most people had heard of or seen certain aspects of the behavior, no one had experience or knowledge from the literature of the more disturbing elements. Let us know what you think and any experiences you’ve had, and I’ll continue canvassing horse behaviorists and veterinarians around the world.

We’ll coordinate all the responses and report back to you in a future issue. My stallion was in his paddock one day as usual and I saw him chase and kill a rabbit.

That sure was interesting to watch, but what really freaked me out and continues to worry me is that he stood over the dead rabbit, licking the blood. She eats roadkill such as dead birds, and now I’ve discovered her stomping on a live rabbit in her stable.

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I say this because it is too bizarre and frightening for the average reader and in all honesty, I wouldn’t believe it myself if I had not seen it with my own eyes. I only know that what I witnessed recently was real, and there doesn’t seem to be any viable explanation for it.

A close friend of mine has a small farm on the edge of my town. His understanding of horses is very strong because he’s had so many of them from all different breeds throughout the years, but he never saw or experienced what recently happened.

I was driving to his farm and as I got near his driveway, I noticed one of the horses trying to reach something through the fence that faces the road. When he pulled his head back through the fence I was shocked to see that he had a dead rabbit in his mouth.

As I continued to watch, I became shocked as the horse lowered his head and placed the rabbit on the ground. I stood there for about 10 minutes watching as this horse ate most of the rabbit’s soft tissue.

Needless to say I was almost in shock because I have never heard of any horse eating meat of any kind. I took him back to the scene of the incident, and we climbed the fence and went over to what was left of the rabbit.

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He did say he had seen horses chewing some strange things over the years and that once before he saw a horse chewing on the hide of what looked like a dead rat that his barn cats had killed and eaten. We went back up to the barnyard where there were goats and chickens running around in the small pasture area that was shared with the horses.

We were sitting on the fence for about five minutes and all the horses made their way up to the small barnyard area. Then all of a sudden the playing turned savage when the horse grabbed the young goat by the neck with its teeth.

The young goat was hurt badly when the horse dropped it from his mouth. The horse finally raised his head which was covered with blood, and he was just chewing away.

We sat perfectly still and watched as the horse continued to reach into the opened goat and eat. After about five minutes, the horse that killed the goat seemed to lose interest and walked over to the water tub to drink.

Soon, one of the three horses reached into the opened cavity, got a bite, and raised her head while chewing. Soon two little colts less than three months old came over to what was left of the goat, and they took some bites and just stood there chewing and eating.

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The horses did not eat the legs, ribs, and other areas that were obviously too hard to chew, but nearly all the soft tissue was consumed, and they had even licked the blood off the grass. He simply said he couldn’t understand any of it, but that he was going to watch the barnyard area carefully for the next several days to see if the horses were attempting to go after any of the other goats.

Neither of us is willing to believe that this is the first time in history that something like this has ever happened with horses or other farm animals for that matter. From time immemorial, they have been used as a source of food, transport, entertainment, and companionship.

Although they can survive solely on grass, hay, and plants, people still have their confusion about whether they’re herbivores, carnivores, or omnivores. Studies show that some species rely on others as their source of food, and some eat other animals.

Unlike many other animals, horses rely on plants as their primary source of food. Animals have different jawlines, and the shape of their skulls and teeth can tell you what dietary habits they’re inclined to.

They also have big canines that make it easier to grip the flesh and cut through it quickly. They follow their prey and get as close to them as possible, and they make a sudden sprint to attack them.

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A predator’s jaws are created in a manner that gives them a significant advantage when it comes to hunting. Their jaws are equipped with sharp incisors and large canines that help in crushing and breaking down the fibers into digestible form.

Most omnivores show the behaviors of stealth when it comes to hunting, but they are also able to forge, dig, browse, and gather plant material. Herbivores have a totally different jawline as their bodies are adapted to eating only pure, raw plant material.

They’re easily able to cut, nip through the gross, or hold on as they pull back at branches of trees. Rabbits, mice, and cattle have different types of incisors that help them eat.

Herbivores animals have some common traits like alertness and the ability to run very fast as it’s their primary way to survive. They’re bred so that they’re able to run races, pull heavy loads, or jump high and give performances.

The digestive system of horses is very well-equipped at turning grass into energy. Since canines are mostly used for chewing and tearing flesh, horses aren’t equipped to do that.

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A horse’s stomach can hold a small amount and empty it quickly as it passes through their bodies at a rate of about 1 foot per minute. Horse breeders provide them with alternative sources of energy like grains.

The grain helps to give them a boost, which enhances their energy and makes them work harder. Horses hold a great deal of water and mass that fills up their enormous gut.

Meats and animal products go bad very quickly, and they have toxins that don’t always get destroyed by cooking. Hence, consuming meat once or twice may not hurt them but doesn’t mean it is the perfect addition to a horse’s diet.

Herbivores, including horses, have evolved in a way that they can graze continuously throughout the day. But at times when pasture isn’t available around the year, there are a few alternatives that one can give to their horses.

An average horse needs to consume hay, which is about 2% of their body weight in one day. The time, environment, conditions, and harvesting process all have a significant impact on the quality of the hay.

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When serving them feed, you should allow your horse to enjoy hay first before consuming rich, calorie-dense grains. It is crucial to ration the amount of grain, based on how much your horse requires.

Too much can cause intestinal upset and also lead to severe issues like obesity. If you’re giving your horse too little a quantity of grains, it means you’re depriving them of some essential nutrients that could be beneficial for them.

Small, frequent meals help in recreating the sort of experience a horse will have in nature. However, this may not be fulfilling for them as it would be better to feed them at least three times a day with a gap of 8 hours in between each mealtime.

Consistent feeding helps horses feel used to the surroundings, and a lack of this could also trigger health issues and stress. The herbivorous nature of horses, and them being the PRE animal, helps us understand some of their behaviors and traits. They are not omnivores.

We can understand that when a horse encounters danger, their steady response is to flee from the situation. They’re equipped with speed and alertness, which helps them avoid risk and understand when they’re facing danger.

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Some studies have also shown that due to the fear of predators, prey chooses to live together in groups. Equine digestive systems are incredibly delicate and are best suited for plant matter and not meat.

Their jaws are designed in a way that helps them to grind and break down complex fibers instead of flesh. Since they cannot vomit, toxins from these foods can build in their systems, which can prove to be fatal.

Horses are herbivores, not carnivores, which means they eat plants, not animals like chickens. Not hunt horses. Another Answer: Horses fall prey to carnivores, so any horse can be hunted by a wild animal, including wolves, a large cat or a bear.

They have eyes on the side of their heads to watch out for predators. Horses mainly graze grass and a few forms making them herbivores, not carnivores or omnivores typical of most animals that hunt.

They can protect themselves from being preyed upon by running or fighting back. But a horse eats oats, hay, sweet feed, carrots, apples, horse treats, a little of pasture grass and many more types of horse feed.

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Birds and rodents and many animals cannot contract rabies. Usually it is confined to carnivores, but some animals like cattle and horses can contract it.

By the way chinchillas are mammals not carnivores. We asked for reader response, and I agreed to contact experts in equine nutrition, behavior, and husbandry from around the world for their comments on the topic.

The responses have come from horse owners, trainers, veterinarians, biologists, animal behaviorists, and equine scientists from all over the world. The reports included domestic horses, donkeys, mules, ponies, and miniatures, as well as wild mustangs.

Meat foods mentioned included hot dogs, hamburgers, steak, bologna, ham, fried chicken, or buffalo wings–eaten from the hand or from the tailgate just as if they were apples. Unusual meaty food items included were spaghetti with meat sauce, chicken livers from the trash, whole raw eggs in the shell, meat-based dry dog food, and an entire family Thanksgiving dinner of turkey and trimmings.

Some indicated that these particular horses were the type of animal that would take almost anything offered from the hand of a human, or that were very mouthy and nibble around everything. It’s pretty funny when you see a horse take a whole fish at once, and you see the tail extending out through the lips as the head and body are chewed.

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It is claimed that the fish provide salt, as well as vitamins A and D and selenium, which are reportedly deficient in the native hay and silage. Many readers sent graphic accounts of horses chasing and attacking small animals and fowl, usually by stomping, pouncing cat-style, or picking up and tossing all sorts of critters.

Readers’ experiences included, more or less in the order most mentioned: Dogs, rats, mice, chickens, goats, sheep, rabbits, ducks, geese, calves, peahens, turkeys, pigeons, snakes, pigs, squirrels, coyotes, cats, hedgehogs, beaver, bandit (Australian cat-sized marsupial), and skunk (yikes!). Many people reported the horse paying attention to or playing with an animal that was injured or killed as a result.

Many others reported that they had intervened and removed the dead animal, and so didn’t know if the horse had eaten any meat or blood. Many readers described finding a horse licking blood or eating a dead animal that they either knew (such as doves or blood from deer killed by hunters) or assumed had been found dead–perhaps died there or had been killed and left by a dog or cat.

Some readers described having seen horses eating live chicks, mice, and goldfish whole or by biting off and swallowing the head. “I saw a peahen with several pea chicks sauntering through this stallion’s large corral, and as she and the chicks were getting practically underneath the horse, I was concerned that one might accidentally get stepped on if he moved.

I saw the chick’s legs and feet sticking out of the stallion’s lips, and I was totally horrified, realizing it would probably be dead or injured beyond saving once he dropped it. I ran straight into his corral, still hardly believing what I’d witnessed, hoping maybe I was wrong and perhaps I’d find the chick lying dead on the ground.

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Just as in our original stories, several readers described eyewitness accounts of horses repeatedly killing and eating some or all of the carcass. Dr. Anna Guru Thorhallsdottir, an equine nutritionist and behaviorist from Iceland, offered the interpretation of repeated ingestion of blood, viscera, or meat as a learned behavior.

“In conversation with a distinguished Eastern European Chief Veterinary Officer–who also happens to be an equine vet–he advanced an interesting idea. He asked me if I had ever seen horses eating meat, and I recounted the story of my pregnant Welsh pony (that had eaten a dead sheep).

Most people described that horses which killed and ate animals remained gentle with humans, although some were leery of allowing contact with children. Unfortunately, we’ve known of other children and people over the years that have been viciously attacked and injured or killed by horses.

Horse are big and strong animals, after all, and it would seem natural for them to gain strength from a juicy piece of meat. Horses are herbivores which means they eat plants and hay.

Only in Iceland will people feed horses dried fish to give them more proteins. The digestive system of horses is geared toward eating plans and hay and should not have to process meat.

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It may seem strange that such a big and strong animal as a horse can live on plants in hay alone. After all, they are often working hard all day, and we tend to think that such labor requires meat in order to develop the muscles and sustain the animal.

Primary producers are organisms that are turning the heat from the sun into energy through photosynthesis. This is a constant and ongoing process in plants such as grass and flowers.

Horses have flat teeth that are perfectly made for chewing plants and grass. That doesn’t mean that your horse will never eat anything that’s animal based.

Once in a while, your horse will need some sort of supplements that are based on proteins or other animal-based food. You will also find that the foal will drink milk from the mother which is full of proteins.

It’s important for the small horse to get the rich proteins from the mother’s milk in order to develop strong and healthy bones. You might find that a horse like the smell and taste meet.

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They have been bred and formed by nature to have a digestion system which is based on eating plans and hay. So the next time you will wonder if you should let your horse taste your leftovers, you will need to get rid of the meat first.

It doesn’t have the sharp teeth to eat it and it will not be able to turn the meat into little pieces. You just need to watch the animal carefully if you suspect that your horse has been eating a lot of meat you probably need to take it to the vet.

You will need a professional opinion if you suspect that your horse has become sick or in other way is affected by eating meat. Wild horses, on the other hand, have often been observed to eat other smaller animals.

No harm is done from a horse eating a little mouse or another tiny animal. But you will never see a wild pack of horses eating a bigger dead animal.

They are not predators such as big cats like tigers and jaguars. They would typically keep dry camel meat and feed it to the horse along with other things such as honey.

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Wild horses live in flocks but not in order to hunt other animals. Because as you might know, horses do have natural enemies such as bears, alligators, big cats, etc.

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