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Many horse owners enjoy giving their equine companion treats as a reward or supplement to hard feed and forage, but it’s important to make sure they are safe for them to consume. There are several fruits and vegetables that are suitable for feeding horses in moderation, but tomatoes are not among them, warns Jo Palmer, a member of the Allen & Page nutrition team.

Under no circumstances should tomatoes be fed to horses, she says. They contain multiple toxins in the fruit and plant that are poisonous to horses and many other animals.

Tomatoes come from the Solanaceae family, which also includes deadly nightshade and many other toxic plants. If eaten, the toxins these plants contain will affect the horse’s digestive system in several ways, including inhibiting saliva production and slowing digestion which can lead to diarrhoea and colic. A slow heart rate and breathing difficulties can also occur as a result of horses eating tomatoes.

Safe treats

Most fruits and vegetables are good natural sources of antioxidants, and are safe for horses, including apples, carrots, banana and melon, but these should be fed as small treats and not in large quantities as this could upset the delicate balance of microorganisms in the gut. Always cut suitable fruit and veg lengthways into small pieces to reduce the risk of your horse choking.

The right balance

Many vitamins and minerals are important antioxidants for horses, including vitamin C, vitamin E and selenium. Provided horses receive the manufacturer’s recommended amount of a balanced horse feed alongside good quality grass and forage they will be getting sufficient antioxidants in their diet.

Horses can also make vitamin C in their liver, so supplementing specifically to boost antioxidant intake shouldn’t be routinely necessary for most. However intense levels of exercise and recovery from illness and injury increase a horse’s antioxidant requirements. For this reason, hard-working performance horses and those rehabilitating may benefit from one of the many antioxidant supplements available.

Meet the expert: Jo Palmer has a BSc (Hors) in agriculture with animal science and is a member of the Allen & Page nutrition team, helping to guide owners on feeds and feeding. 

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