Can Horses Drink Milk? All You Need to Know
It’s common knowledge that all mammals feed their offspring maternal milk during the first months or years of their lives. This includes horses, which leads to the next logical question – can adult horses drink milk?
The answer is a straight no. Adult horses are lactose intolerant, just like most humans and other mammals as they get older. That’s Mother Nature’s way of informing us that the time to drink milk is during infancy.
Feeding your horse milk, no matter the source, or any other dairy product, will result in explosive diarrhea. The latter will lead to dehydration, and the problems will keep coming.
There’s also no reason why you would give your horse milk, so don’t. Stick to water and keep the milk for yourself if you’re not lactose intolerant, of course.
Is Milk Toxic for Adult Horses?
It’s not that it’s toxic, it’s that the horses can no longer digest milk or any other dairy products. All mammals are born with lactase, an enzyme that helps the digestive system break down the lactose in dairy products. The problem is that lactase will go away soon after birth.
Worldwide, around 70% of people have lactose intolerance. Horses will develop the same problem as they grow. Lactose intolerance isn’t dangerous, except maybe for the fact that it causes diarrhea. If you keep feeding milk to your horse, the continuous diarrhea will eventually lead to dehydration.
And, yes, dehydration can kill in certain scenarios.
How Long Do Foals Drink Milk?
Foals begin drinking milk as soon as they’re born but will exhibit hay-eating behavior in parallel as well. One to three-week-old foals will also spend around 10% of their day chewing hay and grass, despite not getting many nutrients out of them. That’s because the foal’s digestive system isn’t adapted to solid foods yet.
In general, foals tend to drink less and less milk as time goes by, as their digestive system adapts to its new food sources. The foal will begin gaining more nutrients from hay, grass, and grains than it does from its mother’s milk by 10 to 12 weeks. Most foals will stop consuming milk around that time or shortly after.
The foal will also drink water, sometimes from day one since birth, but only in small quantities. They do so out of instinct and by mimicking their mother or other adult horses around in the herd.
Studies show that certain breeds of feral foals tend to adapt to solid foods faster. This is, undoubtedly, the result of the harsh environment that the horses live in, requiring more adaptability than domestic environments.
Can Foals Drink Cow Milk?
They can, but it’s not ideal. Generally speaking, the mare’s milk is similar in content to that of cows and goats with a noticeable difference – whey protein. The mare’s milk contains around 40% more whey compared to the other two, making the milk more nutritious and more fitting for the foal.
If you have no other option, you can feed the foal cow’s milk, but only short-term, while looking for a better option. I recommend looking for a foster mare or buy mare milk from reliable sources to bottle-feed your foal. This will ensure that the foal receives all the vital nutrients, protein, fats, and vitamins present in the mare’s milk.
Can a Horse Die from Drinking Milk?
Yes, horses can die due to drinking milk, and there are two aspects I would like to discuss here. We have already touched upon the first point, which is lactose intolerance in adult horses. This can lead to diarrhea and even death in severe cases.
It doesn’t usually happen because horses have no way of drinking milk as adults. Especially repeatedly.
The second case involves a condition called Neonatal Isoerythrolysis or, in popular terms, the jaundice foal syndrome. This disorder is the result of the foal having a different blood type than its mother, which means that the mother’s blood and milk contain antibodies that will attack the foal’s body.
These antibodies are more prevalent in the mare’s colostrum which will secrete during the first 24 hours after the foal’s birth. Normally, this colostrum is a key component in the development of the foal’s immune system. The colostrum contains vital beneficial bacteria that contribute to digestion and allow the foal to grow its own immune system.
Foals with NI, however, cannot consume colostrum since it can prove deadly. The ideal option is to feed the foal colostrum from another nursing mare, at least for the first 24 hours after its birth. Once the foal’s mother’s colostrum is gone, the mare can feed its offspring naturally.
Can a Horse Drink Coconut Milk?
The coconut contains electrolytes, minerals like calcium, manganese, iron or zinc, simple sugars, and fibers. It is easy to digest, and it is nutritious and tasty. I see no reason not to feed your horse coconut milk or even coconut meat once in a while.
Don’t overdo it, however, or don’t use coconut milk to replace water. But you can definitely use coconut milk as a treat occasionally. It will benefit your horse.
The conclusion is pretty simple and straightforward. When the milk’s mineral content drops, all foals drink their mothers’ milk until 10 – 12 weeks of age, the foal will get more nutrients from solid foods.
Once the horse reaches maturity, all the lactase in its body is gone, and the horse becomes lactose intolerant. This means it will no longer be able to consume milk or any dairy products, no matter the source.
So, let the mare-foal relationship unfold as nature intended, and then feed the growing horse its natural hay, grains, grass, etc.