One of the great pleasures of owning a horse is getting to feed them a tasty snack. For many, there is an idea that horses can eat almost any kind of vegetation given that they roam outdoors, but is that true?

In this article, we will specifically answer whether horses can eat cabbage. We’ll look at the impact it can have and the more nuanced diet they require to keep them healthy.

a person feeding a horse

The horse diet – can they eat cabbage?

The answer is no. It is not recommended that you feed a horse cabbage due to the negative impact it can have on their health. As part of the cruciferous family, cabbage is not a healthy option for a horse like it is for humans. 

The question of whether they will eat cabbage is different, as many horses will gladly chomp on any leafy vegetable if it’s presented to them. That, however, does not mean that you should give in to their ravenous inclination.

What happens when you feed a horse cabbage?

Understanding the digestion of horses is important for getting to grips with their diet. While there are many nutritional benefits to us as humans in cabbage, it is not the same for a horse. 

You may not realise it, but there’s some science behind what happens to a horse when it eats cabbage. The first thing you need to be aware of is raffinose – a sugar compound that is found in cabbage and other vegetables. This causes an accumulation of gas inside a horse’s stomach, leading to bloating.

That, in and of itself, is bad enough, but the next part is what really puts the horse in discomfort and danger: horses have a one-way system for food and digestion. As humans, we can usually regulate gas through burping and belching, but this is not something horses can do, meaning that the excess gas cannot be expelled normally.

This issue is known as colic, creating spasms and the stretching of the gut wall because of the gas. It’s a dangerous situation for horses and can be fatal if not addressed quickly.

There is also a risk of toxicity for horses if they eat cabbage. This is due to the glucosinolates that can be released when a horse eats the cabbage leaves. Not all cabbages will contain this, but it is very hard to know whether they do and what levels of it they contain, making it generally unsafe for a horse to have.

Alternatives to cabbage for horses

Now that you know not to give a horse cabbage, make sure you keep it away from them and out of their paddocks or stables. If you know it grows in your fields or neighbouring areas, be sure to remove it or steer the horse away.

Once you’ve made sure they don’t have access to cabbage, what can you feed them? You’ll be pleased to know that there are plenty of horse-safe vegetables to keep your equine friend happy and healthy.

There is so much that horses can enjoy eating, so why not give them a special treat that won’t pose a risk to their health? Here are several options for them to enjoy:

  1. Carrots – More famous with rabbits, but horses love carrots and they’re definitely safe for them to eat. They contain so many vitamins and can also improve their digestion, making them the polar opposite of cabbage!
  2. CucumbersA favourite snack for horses, give them what they crave knowing you’re also giving them lots of vitamins and antioxidants without worry.
  3. Celery – If you’re after something leafy, green and with a bit of crunch, let your horse chomp on celery and give them a boost of fibre and cellulose – just remember to feed this in moderation.
  4. Pumpkin – Thanks to the fact they contain a lot of water, pumpkins not only make a nice snack with vitamins, but they also help with hydration too. 
  5. Apples – As long as you get rid of the seeds and core, you can give your horse something sweet and juicy in the shape of an apple.

Are all cabbages bad for horses?

Because there are so many varieties of cabbage, you might be wondering if any type of cabbage is a viable option as a snack. The answer is no. Whether it’s dried cabbage, red cabbage or savoy cabbage, they’re all part of the cruciferous family, meaning they have the raffinose that is so dangerous to a horse.

Can a horse eat cabbage? Final thoughts

A horse’s diet should contain a good level of grass, hay and grains, along with plenty of water, minerals and salt. This provides the balance and nutrients they need without encountering the issues related to bloating and colic that feeding cabbage causes.

Always consult a professional vet if you believe your horse has eaten cabbage or if you want more guidance on their diet.

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