Why Horses Stop Eating: 13 Common Causes

Last Updated on February 23, 2022 by Allison Price

My friend’s horse suddenly stopped eating last winter. Our vet discovered that she had suffered from ulcers in her mouth. She was able to recover and eat again. I was struck by her experience and wondered if there were other factors that could cause horses to stop eating.

Horses stop eating when they are sick, have problems with their teeth, or if there is an interruption in their daily routine. Colic, gastric ulcers and choke are all common. Horses may not eat if they are anxious or dehydrated.

Why Horses Stop Eating

Horses are sensitive, large animals that need a lot of food. They typically consume 16 pounds of forage daily. If they stop eating, it is a sign they have a problem. It is important to know the eating habits of your horses so that you can detect a problem and treat it quickly.

Horses stop eating for a variety of reasons.

Horses may stop eating for many reasons. You might be feeding your horse hay that they don’t like, or they could be suffering from dental problems. Horses should consume at least 1-2 pounds ofhay for every 100 pounds of their body weight each day.

Horses’ eating habits can indicate their health. Horses often stop drinking and eating when they are sick. It is crucial to have the horse checked as soon as possible.

Horses are very sensitive, and that is something I have believed since childhood. Horses can suddenly stop eating if they are experiencing pain. If you recognize this sign, you can help your horse.

Let’s take a look at what could be stopping your horse from finishing his meal.

Medical conditions


Colic is a condition that causes abdominal pain in horses. Colic can be caused by many factors. The stomach or intestines may become swollen, inflamed, or partially twisted. The large intestine might shrink or fold.

Colic symptoms include loss appetite, bloated bellies and pawing and rolling. They can also cause sweating and other signs of distress. If you suspect your horse is suffering from colic, the first step in treatment is to determine the cause.

* Gastric ulcers

Gastric ulcers are caused by stomach acid irritating the stomach lining. An empty stomach, prolonged use of NSAIDs and excessive concentrations in the diet may all lead to ulcers.

Horses may lose appetite. Some horses may not finish their meals. Horses with ulcers may also experience nervousness and agitation.

Horses suffering from gastric ulcers may be recommended to use feeds such as alfalfahay or beet pulp.

* Dental problem

Bad teeth can cause horses to stop eating due to pain. This can lead to weight loss or vitamin deficiencies. Sometimes, it is as simple as having their teeth flipped to fix the problem.

Horses often don’t realize they have dental problems. To remove any sharp points of enamel, it is best to take your horse to a veterinary dentist at least once per year.

These points can cause irritation to the cheeks, causing ulceration. It can also make chewing difficult. I wrote an article about floating horse teeth.

* Choke

Choke is common and is caused by material like roughage getting stuck in the horse’s esophus (the organ connecting the stomach to the throat).

Horses with choke may try to cough out food. It is possible to see saliva, mucus or food escaping from your nostrils or mouth. You might also see the horse bend its neck or shake its head down frequently.

If your horse is suffering from choke, you should not give it any food or water. The condition usually resolves itself within a few days. However, if your horse continues to show symptoms even after several days, you should contact your veterinarian immediately.

* Diarrhea

Horses suffering from diarrhea experience frequent bowel movements and stools that are watery. Diarrhea can be caused by severe conditions such as bacterial infection, viruses and parasites, diet changes, intestinal inflammation or inappropriate use of medication.

Diarrhea is usually not an issue if your horse does not show extreme symptoms. If diarrhea persists more than a few days or stops the horse from eating, it is best to consult a veterinarian.

Equine diarrhea is a complicated problem. Learn how you can prevent diarrhea to ensure your horse stays healthy.

* Injury

Unlucky horses can get sick from injuries that they may have sustained. Most minor injuries heal quickly and should not be considered a concern.

Your horse may stop eating after an injury. This could be because it is experiencing temporary pain or discomfort. You can also opt for an safe, over-the-counter medication if transporting your horse to the veterinarian is not possible.


* Separation

Horses are herd animals. They rely on human companionship and equine support for their mental health. Horses can become stressed easily by abrupt changes in their routines and lose their appetite.

Horses who are restricted from being out of the stable for more than a few hours a day may feel depressed. Horses that are not allowed to be with their fellow horses can show anxiety. A horse can be distressed by moving to another property or going on a long journey.

* Boredom

Horses can easily become bored with a boring diet or routine. This is just like humans. It is possible to stimulate their minds by providing horse toys and mixing up their food with tasty treats.

* Bullying

You may have heard of “pasture bullies,” which are horses who bite, kick, and bare their teeth at other horses. Bullies can not only prevent your horse’s comfortable access to hay and grass, but they can also cause stress and make your horse lose their appetite.

Bullying is a natural part of life and can be difficult to manage. However, you cannot always keep an eye on your horses. You should avoid any aggressive behavior around horses. It might be more productive to concentrate on the bully rather than relocating it.

Other causes

* Abrupt diet changes

Are your horses picky eaters? Horses will reject a change in diet, such as a shift from low-protein Bermuda Hay to Alfalfa. You should gradually change their diet over several weeks.

* Bad food

Horses can sense when food is bad or if it has been given moldyhay. Staling is more common in hot and unclean environments. It is important to ensure that the horse’s food smells and looks right before you feed it.

* Hard work

Horses who have been subjected to a more intense work routine or worked harder can lose their appetite. This is because horses now require more hard feed, such as concentrates rather than roughage. If your horse isn’t used to strenuous work, you might consider gradual changes to its routine.

* Heat and dehydration

Horses can be discouraged from finishing their meals by hot weather or flies. Similar to the previous, dehydration can cause a horse’s appetite to decrease. It is important to give your horse regular baths in the summer, and at least 5-10 gallons of water each day.

How do I get my horse to eat?

It is an indicator of their mood that horses eat their feed. Horses who eat their feed regularly are usually in good health. Horses that refuse to eat need your full attention and care.

Finding out why your horse stopped eating is the first step to getting him back on track. This could be due to a medical condition, or stress. You should consult your veterinarian to determine the extent of the problem and follow their recommendations to get it back on its feet.

The hardest part of diagnosing your horse’s loss of appetite is to identify the root cause. Sometimes the problem can be as simple as minor anxiety or pain and will disappear with positive treatment.

If you suspect that your pet’s poor appetite is a serious problem, and you are unable to identify the cause, consult your veterinarian immediately.

To determine the cause of your horse’s refusal to eat, a vet will run several tests. Your vet may prescribe medication or recommend a program of exercise for your horse.

How long can a horse live without eating?

Horses can’t live without water for more than a few days. Their bodies, however, can live longer than humans if they aren’t fed, but in a delicate and cruel condition.

Horses can live for up to three weeks without eating. Horses that are starved develop health problems within one to two days.

Although there aren’t any studies on the exact time horses can go hungry, some evidence suggests that they can live for many days without food.

Horses are used to eating grass most of the day so a hungry horse can be vulnerable to serious medical conditions such as gastric ulcers or colic.

A starved horse will slowly lose muscle mass and its immune system will weaken. It will be more susceptible to viral and bacterial infections. This can lead to poor blood circulation and organ failure.

You should immediately contact your local animal welfare agency, or 911 if you suspect that a horse has been abused. I have written an article about horse abuse. You should immediately contact your local animal welfare agency or call 911 if you suspect that an animal is being mistreated.

Allison Price
Allison Price

I’m Allison, born and raised in San Diego California, the earliest memory I have with horses was at my grandfather’s farm. I used to sit at the stable as a kid and hang out with my Papa while he was training the horses. When I was invited to watch a horse riding competition, I got so fascinated with riding!