Is it okay for horses to eat pumpkin and/or pumpkin-flavored treats?
The short answer is yes. Using just a bit of common sense, you can feed pumpkins to horses as a tasty seasonal treat. Because pumpkins are about 90% water they are not nutritionally rich, but they can be safely fed to horses. Orange pumpkins are safe to feed horses, and this includes the seeds. Even though pumpkins are safe for horses other types of autumn gourds are toxic and can cause colic, diarrhea, and gastrointestinal irritation.
If you find yourself with some extra, uncarved pumpkins, consider offering them to your horse for a treat. Horses may, or may not, like the taste of pumpkin. If your horse is one that does like the sweet taste of pumpkin, then it’s perfectly OK to feed him some. Be thoughtful when offering your horse pumpkin, slicing it up into small chunks to avoid choke. Limit pumpkin intake to two cups per day (about one small pumpkin) or less.
If the safety of any food is in question, check lists of poisonous plants and foods provided by universities such as Cornell, as well as sources such as the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, to see what you can find out about the item.
Be cautious with treats for horses with health conditions. While pumpkin has a glycemic index of 75, meaning that the blood glucose response to eating a set amount of carbohydrate from pumpkin is 75% of the response to the control, its glycemic load is only 3. This means that it will not cause a rapid increase in blood glucose, especially when eaten in limited quantities. This makes it a safe choice for horses with equine metabolic syndrome and conditions such as polysaccharide storage myopathy. If you have a horse with hyperkalemic periodic paralysis, where you are trying to limit potassium intake, it might be wise to skip the pumpkin treat.
Don’t feed horses pumpkins that might have candle wax in them, are moldy, or that have started to rot. Also consider that it’s never wise to suddenly add large amounts of a novel food to your horse’s diet.
Resist the urge to toss a few pumpkins into his pen for a big snack time.
Let us know if your horse likes eating pumpkin!