What Treats Can I Feed My Laminitic Horse?

A nutritionist offers her advice on which treats are safe for laminitic horses.
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Are Peppermints Spoiling My Horse
Due to their high sugar content, peppermints should be fed in moderation or cut from a laminitic horse’s diet. | Alexandra Beckstett/The Horse

Q. My horses is currently recovering from laminitis. My veterinarian worked with me to create a nutrition plan to help reduce the chance of future episodes, but what about treats? My horse loves peppermints and carrots. Are those safe for him to still enjoy, or should I find new treats? What would you consider to be safest?

A. I first want to applaud you for being proactive in your horse’s care. Making diet and management modifications for horses prone to laminitis is key to preventing additional episodes. As your veterinarian probably told you, the goal is to limit the intake of simple sugars and other nonstructural carbohydrates.

Giving your horse treats, in particular carrots and peppermints, is something that should be altered as part a laminitis management program. This is not to say all mints and carrots must be removed, but you should limit intake. Both peppermints and carrots are relatively high in sugar, and while small amounts will not trigger a laminitis episode, large amounts might. Apples are other common treats that are high in sugar (more so than carrots). Pretty much any foods/snacks/candy that humans with issues related to sugar intake are told to avoid are not good options for horse treats. Also avoid sugar cubes, molasses-based treats, watermelon, pretzels, potato chips, applesauce, and flavored yogurt.

It can be hard to kick the treat habit, especially if your horse is used to getting them. But don’t despair! Fortunately, there are a variety of treats you can offer horses that are lower in sugar content. Many horses like apple peels, strawberries, pumpkin seeds, celery, sugar-free candies (avoid those sweetened with Xylitol), and pieces of watermelon rind. You can also look for commercial low-starch or no-sugar treats, often labeled as “insulin-resistant horse treats.”

So, your horse can still have some peppermints and carrots but in moderation. Many low-sugar options are available that can still satisfy the urge to give your horse treats.

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Janice L. Holland, PhD, is an Associate Professor and Director of Equine Studies at Wilson College in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. A graduate of both Penn State and Virginia Tech, her equine interests include nutrition and behavior, as well as amateur photography. When not involved in horse activities she enjoys spending time outdoors enjoying nature.

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