What Can Pregnant Horses Not Eat?

pregnant horse barn with a horse eating straw in the field in front of it

Welcoming a foal into the world is one of the most exhilarating experiences for horse owners and breeders. However, it also comes with a hefty responsibility for expectant mare care, which includes understanding what pregnant horses should not eat. Ensuring a proper diet is integral to a successful horse gestation, minimizing risks to both the mare and the foal. At David Woods Hay Service, we understand nutrition’s critical role in equine health, particularly during the delicate period of pregnancy. Here, we will discuss the essential elements of a pregnant mare’s diet and the foods to avoid.

The Importance of Proper Nutrition During Horse Gestation

Horse gestation lasts approximately 11 months, a period during which the mare’s nutritional needs escalate. A balanced diet nurtures the developing foal and supports the mare’s health, reducing the likelihood of complications such as colic, laminitis, or developmental disorders in the foal.

Providing premium-quality hay, such as dairy alfalfa, is foundational for pregnant mare diets, as it is rich in essential nutrients and fibers. However, not all feedstuffs are beneficial, and some can be downright harmful.

Toxic Plants and Weeds

Many plants are harmful or even deadly to horses, but pregnant mares are particularly vulnerable to their toxic effects. Here are some to watch for:

1. Fescue Grass

Endophyte-infected tall fescue is one of the primary concerns for mares. This type of fescue contains toxins that can cause prolonged pregnancy, difficulty foaling, agalactia (no milk production), and thickened placentas, which could endanger the lives of both mare and foal.

2. Ragwort

Ragwort contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids, which result in liver damage. Consuming this plant can lead to chronic liver failure, which is exceptionally dangerous during pregnancy.

3. Bracken Fern

Bracken fern contains thiaminase, an enzyme that breaks down thiamine (vitamin B1), leading to thiamine deficiency. This can cause various neurological symptoms and compromise both the mare and the foal’s health.

4. Horsetail

Horsetail also contains thiaminase. Regular consumption may lead to neurological symptoms, putting the mare at risk, thereby jeopardizing the foal’s health.

5. Hemlock

Hemlock contains potent neurotoxins, which can lead to nervous system dysfunction, respiratory failure, and death, even in small amounts.

6. Nightshade

Nightshade species contain solanine, which affects the digestive and neurological systems, causing symptoms such as salivation, drowsiness, and colic.

7. Acorns and Oak Trees

Acorns and young oak leaves contain tannins, which can cause severe digestive distress, kidney failure, and lethargy. Pregnant mares grazing near oak trees should be guarded against accidental consumption.

Horse owners must regularly inspect pastures and remove hazardous plants. Professional hay growers like David Woods Hay Service can offer safe, high-quality hay options that ensure mares receive optimal nutrition without the risk of toxic plant exposure.

Harmful Foods from the Human Diet

Horses are often given treats as part of their daily care, but not all human foods are safe for them, especially during pregnancy.

1. Chocolate

Chocolate contains theobromine, which is toxic to horses. Consumption can lead to colic, seizures, or even death.

2. Onions and Garlic

Onions and garlic contain disulfides and thiosulfates, which can damage red blood cells, leading to conditions like hemolytic anemia.

3. Caffeine

Caffeinated foods and beverages (like coffee, tea, and cola) should be strictly avoided as they can overstimulate the nervous system, causing irregular heart rhythms and disrupting the mare’s metabolism.

4. Avocados

Avocados contain persin, which can cause myocardial necrosis—death of heart muscle cells—and mammary gland inflammation in mares.

5. Fruit Seeds and Pits

Certain fruit pits and seeds, such as those from apples, cherries, and peaches, contain cyanogenic compounds, which can lead to cyanide poisoning. Always be sure to core or seed fruits before offering them as treats.

6. Bread

While bread isn’t outright toxic, it can swell and compact in the digestive system, leading to colic or other digestive issues that can complicate horse gestation.

Feed Additives and Supplements

Not all supplements or feed additives are beneficial for pregnant mares. It’s always best to consult with an equine nutritionist or a veterinarian before making changes or additions to the diet. Here are a few to be weary of:

1. High-Sugar Feeds

Feeds high in sugar and starch can predispose mares to metabolic issues such as insulin resistance, increasing the risk of laminitis.

2. Excessive Protein Supplements

While protein is essential for a developing foal, an excessive protein intake can strain the mare’s kidneys and liver. Careful planning ensures the diet includes balanced protein levels without going overboard.

3. Mineral Imbalances

Calcium and phosphorus imbalances can lead to developmental problems in the foal, such as osteochondrosis. High-quality hay provides a balanced range of essential minerals.

Moldy or Dusty Hay

Nothing is more detrimental than feeding a pregnant mare moldy or dusty hay. Mold contains mycotoxins, which can cause respiratory issues, colic, and other severe health complications.

Dusty hay, while not necessarily moldy, can also contribute to respiratory problems. The last thing you want is for your pregnant mare to develop heaves or other breathing difficulties.

To avoid these problems, always opt for high-quality hay from trusted suppliers. At David Woods Hay Service, we ensure our hay is meticulously harvested, stored, and transported to maintain its integrity and nutritional value.

Final Thoughts on Feeding Your Pregnant Mare

Ensuring a pregnant horse avoids harmful foods is paramount for a healthy pregnancy and a strong, vibrant foal. Remember, the key is to provide balanced nutrition while being vigilant about removing or avoiding hazardous substances. Offering premium quality hay, such as dairy alfalfa from David Woods Hay Service, is essential to this balance.

If you’re ever in doubt about the suitability of a food item or supplement for your pregnant mare, always consult your veterinarian or an equine nutrition expert. These professionals can provide tailored advice to meet the specific needs of your horse’s gestation period.

Contact Us Today

When it comes to the health of your pregnant mares and the future of their foals, cutting corners is not an option. At David Woods Hay Service, we understand the importance of delivering only the highest quality hay to support your equine nutritional needs. Our expert team ensures you receive the best hay available nationwide.

Ready to make the right choice for your horses?

Contact David Woods Hay Service today to discuss bulk quantities and pricing and let us help you coordinate delivery or pickup logistics. With the best hay growers in the business, you can trust us to keep your farm animals healthy and thriving.