Alternative Treats for Metabolic Horses

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It can be difficult to find treats that are safe for metabolically challenged horses, like those with Cushings or insulin disorders that require limited ingestion of carbohydrates and sugars. And while most horses appreciate a good scratch just as much as a sweet treat, it’s still nice to be able to reward a horse for a job well done with a little snack.

Horse and Carrot
Carrots have more sugar than you might expect and aren’t approprriate for horses on low-sugar diets.

But if your horse is on a sugar-restricted diet, don’t despair: There are some treats you can give your equine that won’t disrupt his delicate system. The thing to remember is that even horses that have metabolic issues can receive typical horse treats in very limited doses—this means no more than one small treat a day, not one when you get to the barn, one after you ride, one after you groom and one when you turn him out. Many doting owners don’t realize just how many treats they give their horse per day.

A small piece of carrot, a piece of an alfalfa cube or even one mint will not push your horse over the edge into a laminitic episode. But any of these in excess may do just that, so always err on the side of caution.

If your horse has metabolic issues, you will need to avoid feeding an these:

  • apples and apple sauce
  • carrots
  • watermelon
  • flavored yogurt
  • pretzels, chips and most cereals
  • cookies, both human and equine
  • candy, including peppermints, jelly beans, etc.

Good snacks include:

  • beet pulp with no molasses
  • strawberries
  • cherries (the pit is toxic; make sure pits are removed)
  • peanuts (in the shell)
  • pumpkin seeds
  • celery
  • sugar-free candy (avoid anything sweetened with Xylitol)
  • hay cubes, broken into pieces
  • alfalfa pellets
  • apple peels

Source: Equine Medical & Surgical Associates

If you prefer to buy store-bought treats, quite a few have come onto the market in the last few years. Some popular options include:

Additionally, you can try making your own low-sugar treats. Some recipes can be found here:

Sarah Coleman has a soft spot for chestnuts with chrome, including her off-the-track Thoroughbred that she competes in the hunters. Based in Lexington, Ky., she is the Director of Education and Development for New Vocations Racehorse Adoption Program.

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