Can Horses Eat Blueberries?
Even if you’re not a fan of blueberries, you’ve probably heard how healthy they are. Blueberries are chock-full of antioxidants, making them one of the healthiest snacks for humans.
But are blueberries healthy for horses too? Can horses eat blueberries safely? And if so, how should you feed them to your horse?
In short – yes, blueberries are a healthy snack for horses. But only when served in moderation.
If you’re considering introducing blueberries into the diet of your horse, I encourage you to read my article below in which I discuss how you should feed blueberries to horses to reap the most benefits.
Benefits of Horses Eating Blueberries
Because fruits and vegetables aren’t a staple of a horse’s diet, it’s important to understand how horses should consume these so that you can get only the benefits, without the potentially nasty side-effects.
Here are the benefits of horses eating blueberries as an occasional snack:
– Rich in antioxidants and flavonoids
Adding antioxidants to a horse’s diet will help fight free radicals, improve cardiovascular health, protect against neurodegeneration and digestive illnesses.
Besides antioxidants that can prevent the growth of cancerous tumors, blueberries are also rich in flavonoids, which have anti-inflammatory properties.
Therefore, blueberries have a role in disease-prevention by strengthening the immune system.
– Rich in nutrients
Although small in their size, blueberries are chock-full of vitamins (vitamins C, B, B1, B2 and A) and minerals (potassium, magnesium, manganese, iron, calcium, and phosphorus).
These vitamins and minerals are essential to health, in particular the health of the teeth, skin, and bones.
Therefore, choosing to feed blueberries to your horse instead of other snacks can provide a variety of nutritional benefits.
– Improves Vision
The benefits of blueberries extend to improving and preventing eye related illnesses. Blueberries can also improve vision and blood circulation around the eyes.
– Low-calorie snack
High in fiber and low in calories and sugar, blueberries are an excellent alternative to other snacks that might be high in sugar, starches, or carbohydrates.
Because blueberries are low in calories, they won’t lead to your horse putting on extra weight.
As you can see, there are plenty of reasons why blueberries make a good snack for horses. But are there any disadvantages to feeding blueberries to horses?
Risks of Horses Eating Blueberries
Although it’s hard to find fault in blueberries, there are a few things you should remember when feeding blueberries or any other fruits to your horse:
- The digestive system of horses is sensitive, so don’t overfeed them with blueberries or force them to eat blueberries if they exhibit any side-effects (e.g., digestive problems or colic)
- Pasture grass and hay are the staples of a horse’s diet. Their whole digestive system is set up to metabolize grass and hay. So, consumption of excessive amounts of blueberries is not recommended.
- Horses that fill up on blueberries and other fruity treats may refuse to eat enough grass or hay, which may leave them deficient in nutrients that they derive from these food sources.
- Colic or other gastrointestinal symptoms.
Because blueberries are so small and essentially harmless, it’s easy to lose track of how much you’ve been feeding to your horse.
In large quantities, however, the risks of gastrointestinal problems increase, especially in horses with sensitive stomachs.
Is Any Part of Blueberries Toxic to Horses?
The berry itself is 100% safe for horses and causes no toxicity.
As for the leaves and twigs of blueberry bushes, their waxy and strong texture, don’t make them a palatable choice for horses, especially when there’s pasture grass around.
To my knowledge, blueberry bushes aren’t classified as toxic to horses, but it’s best to avoid feeding the leaves and twigs to your horse.
Collect the blueberries from the bushes and feed your horse only the berries themselves.
How Many Blueberries Can a Horse Eat?
As I mentioned, the small size of the blueberry can easily make you lose track of how much of it you’ve been feeding your horse.
The serving size for blueberries varies depending on the size of the horse, but don’t feed more than a small handful of berries at a time.
Remember that berries or other fruits should not replace the main meal of horses. Any fruits that you offer your horse should be only in small quantities.
Any excesses – whether of blueberries or other fruits – can lead to gastrointestinal issues. Skipping eating their regular foods because they fill up on fruits instead can even cause nutritional deficiencies.
Are Blueberries Good Treats for Horses?
Yes, blueberries make an excellent and healthy treat for horses. Offered to your horse unfrozen or frozen, they can be a good source of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and flavonoids.
The key is to consider blueberries only as a treat and not a main course or a staple of horse nutrition. Never replace a meal with blueberries or fruits or encourage your horse to eat more berries than a small handful.
Beyond these aspects, there are a few other considerations on how to feed berries to your horse that can also have implications regarding the health of your horse.
Here’s how to feed blueberries to horses:
- Always carefully wash blueberries before feeding them to your horse. This is necessary because blueberries can have residual pesticides, bacteria or viruses on their surface.
- Make sure to only feed ripe blueberries as unripe ones can cause gastrointestinal upset in horses with sensitivities.
- Don’t feed rotten berries to your horse.
- If your horse has never tasted blueberries before, you should slowly introduce them into their diet – feeding only a couple of blueberries at a time.
- While it’s not necessary, you can try to peel the berries to see if your horse likes them better if they’re peeled.
- In summer, you can feed frozen blueberries to your horse as a cool, refreshing treat.
- You can feed blueberries to horses in combination with other fruit, being careful to monitor the serving size.
- Don’t feed berries to your horse if you notice they cause any gastrointestinal upset to your horse.
Not all horses will like blueberries, though. And you should never force your horse to eat them if they don’t like them.
Instead of blueberries, you can try feeding them other berries like strawberries or blackberries, or other fruits like apples or watermelon.
The recommendations regarding the amount, washing and frequency of feeding stand in relation to other fruits as well, especially that some fruits can have a higher sugar content, which can affect both the dental health and the digestive health of horses.
Can a Foal Eat Blueberries?
Foals should not be given treats as long as they’re still nursing. Even after they’ve been weaned off nursing, foals should still not be offered any treats.
One of the reasons for this restriction has to do with how the microorganisms in their intestines develop to ferment forage. These slowly develop during the first 4-6 months of their lives.
After this period, foals are slowly weaned off and start feeding more on forage and roughage.
Another often cited reason why foals should not be fed blueberries or other treats is because foals can become nippy and pushy when they’re hand-fed, so it’s best not to reward bad behaviors.
Blueberries are a safe, delicious and all-around healthy treat for horses. That said, blueberries should only be consumed in moderation as an occasional treat.
It’s important to wash blueberries before feeding them to your horse to remove any dirt, sand particles, bacteria, viruses and any residual pesticides.
Make sure that blueberries are ripe and never feed rotten blueberries to your horse.
If your horse does not seem to like blueberries, don’t force it to eat it. Try serving your horse other treats instead.
Because some horses are more sensitive than others, fruits and vegetables that cause no problems for some horses, can cause GI upset in other horses.