How to Get a Horse to Eat Supplements and Medications
Updated March 29, 2023
If your horse is a picky eater, try these tips and tricks to help your horse clean his feed bucket after every meal.
Tips for Getting a Horse to Eat Supplements
Most horses and ponies will eat their daily supplements when mixed with sweet feed but in some cases that might not be a desirable option. For example, horses with Cushing’s Disease (PPID), Equine Metabolic Syndrome, or Polysaccharide Storage Myopathy where the horse is supposed to be on a low-sugar diet. However, there are still quite a few things you can try that might make your horse or pony gobble up his supplements.
- If your supplements are all powders, try switching over to a pelleted version of the same product if available.
- Adding alfalfa pellets is another option, as most horses find them very tasty.
- Research the supplements to see if you can find the same active ingredients in a smaller number of products. That would help cut down on the volume or bulkiness of their supplements.
- Simply wetting your horse’s feed with warm water to create a mash may be enough to make him dig in, especially if he tends to sort through his feed and eat around his supplements or meds. The water helps everything stick together so that even the cleverest horse can’t separate them.
- Add a tablespoon or two of vegetable oil to his meal. This amount should not be too many calories or too much energy but may make supplements more palatable.
- Try a traditional add-in to mask the taste such as apple sauce or apple juice, molasses, or flavored gelatin. There are liquid sugar-free sweeteners formulated to encourage picky eaters to eat their meals.
- Some horses absolutely love beet pulp and it only takes several minutes of soaking for it to “fluff up” and be ready for feeding. Use beet pulp to soak up oil, pellets, and powdered supplements.
A study in the UK tried to answer whether horses have a favorite flavor by ranking the horse’s flavor preferences. The top three flavors turned out to be fenugreek, banana, and cherry! Keep that in mind when shopping for your horse’s supplements.
Word of Caution – Bran Disease
Some people feed wheat or rice bran daily to get their horse to eat supplements or medication but this can be a dangerous practice. Unfortified bran is naturally very high in phosphorus and low in calcium. Feeding an inverted calcium to phosphorous ratio for a long time can lead to a condition called nutritional secondary hyperparathyroidism (also known as Big Head Disease or Bran Disease).
Encouraging Horses to Eat Medications
Giving daily oral medication to horses can be challenging, especially when dealing with a PPID horse who may be suffering from one of the common side effects of pergolide administration: a loss of appetite. Some horses willingly eat pills mixed in their regular meal, although it may be best to offer medication separately as a “treat” to ensure it was not left in the feed tub, pushed out onto the ground, or spit out.
One option is to use treats specially made for this purpose with soft centers surrounded by hard outsides that pills can be put inside. You simply slip the pill into a treat’s pouch, pinch the treat shut, and give it to your horse!
Another option is to find a treat that the horse already likes and hide or mask the pill in it. Some owners will core a hole in a hard treat like a carrot or apple while others opt for soft treats like prunes, dates or Fig Newtons.
Address Underlying Issues Affecting Your Horse’s Appetite
If your horse is turning his nose up at his feed, he may not just be picky – he may be trying to tell you something! Work with your veterinarian to rule out the common reasons that horses are pick eaters.
Your horse’s living environment and herd dynamics can play important roles in how well he eats. If he spends most of his time in a stall where he can’t see other horses, he may be stressed about being alone. On the other hand, if he’s at the bottom of the herd pecking order and fed in a group, he may be stressed about getting chased away from his meals. To eliminate stress, consider using a stall guard so your horse can check out his neighbors, or bringing him inside for meals.
If your horse recently stopped cleaning his feed bucket, he could be trying to tell you that his stomach hurts. Gastric ulcers are a common, painful condition that can have adverse effects on appetite, body condition, and more. If you think your horse may have ulcers, work with your vet to get a proper diagnosis and design an appropriate treatment plan.
Horse’s teeth constantly grow throughout their lives. Horses wear their teeth down as they chew, however, sometimes they wear unevenly and leave sharp points that make it difficult to chew. If your horse is reluctant to eat, it’s a good idea to have your vet come out and see if there’s trouble brewing in his mouth. And whether your horse is experiencing eating issues or not, he should have a dental examination at least once a year (twice for seniors!).
Effects of Prescription Medications
Some medications, like Prascend that is prescribed for horses with PPID, can impact your horse’s appetite. If your horse has recently been diagnosed with Cushing’s and has started receiving medication for it, talk to your vet about your concerns and to find a solution.
Still Need Help? Call in the Supplement Experts
If you’ve tried it all and your picky eater is still eating around his supplements or medications, you may need to change up your supplement program to find a formula he likes. Just give our Customer Care team a call at 1-888-279-2364, and we’ll be happy to help you find picky-eater approved supplements that will meet your horse’s needs! Plus, on some formulas we even offer FREE taste test samples!