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Can Horses Eat Potatoes? What You Need to Know

Oliver Jones

Many of our favorite snacks are made from potatoes, like French fries and tater tots. Despite their delicious flavor, horses cannot eat potatoes because they are poisonous to equines, as are any other vegetable from the nightshade family. Potatoes are especially poisonous in their raw form, though you should not feed horses any form of potatoes.

Luckily, most horses find potatoes and other nightshade plants really unappealing. Still, some manufacturers put potato into different horse snacks and treats, which a horse will eat happily. To find out more about why horses cannot eat potatoes, keep reading.

divider-horseWhy Horses Cannot Eat Potatoes

Criollo Horse
Image Credit: Fernando Flores, Wikimedia Commons

Horses cannot eat potatoes because they can be poisonous. Although a bite of a potato will not harm a large horse, you should avoid feeding your horse any potatoes, especially in large quantities or raw.

Interestingly, some horses can eat potatoes with no negative effects, but most horses will suffer severe gastrointestinal distress. Because it is impossible to predict which horses can tolerate potatoes, it is best to avoid them altogether.

Potatoes Are Toxic

Horses cannot eat potatoes because they are part of the nightshade family. Nightshades, which includes peppers, eggplants, and tomatoes, are considered one of the most toxic forms of plants for livestock, cattle, and horses.

As a part of the nightshade family, potatoes have a high amount of solanine. When cooked, the solanine breaks down, leaving cooked potatoes completely safe for human consumption. When the potato is left uncooked, however, large amounts of solanine is in the vegetable, making it highly hazardous to humans and horses alike.

If a human were to swallow a toxic material, they typically would vomit it up, helping to reduce the symptoms and possibility of long-term side effects. Horses, however, do not have the ability to vomit. Without this ability, horses are more likely to become poisoned since they cannot get the toxic material out of their body.

Potatoes Are Fattening

Another reason why you should not feed potatoes to horses is that they are a starchy vegetable. Because they are starchy, potatoes are naturally high in carbohydrates. Carbohydrates can easily cause humans to pack on the pounds, and the same is true for horses.

In fact, potatoes can be even more fattening for horses than they are for us. Horses have not evolved to run on high carbohydrates like potatoes. As a result, eating starchy vegetables and substances can cause horses to become obese very quickly.

Just as obesity is linked to a number of negative health outcomes in humans, it is just as dangerous, if not more so, to horses. Avoid feeding potatoes and other starchy vegetables to your horse so that they can stay lean and trim.

cooked potato
potatoImage Credit: JamesHills, Pixabay

horse shoe divider new

Does Potato Preparation Matter?

Humans rarely eat potatoes raw, and with good reason. Raw potatoes can be poisonous. Not to mention, they are hard and unappetizing. With that in mind, does preparation matter? In other words, can you feed horses potatoes whenever they are cooked a certain way?

Generally speaking, raw potatoes are the most poisonous for your horse, but you should avoid feeding them potatoes, no matter how they are prepared.

Avoid Feeding Your Horse Raw Potatoes

As we explained above, potatoes are a good source of solanine, which is toxic and found in raw potatoes. Given that solanine is primarily found in uncooked potatoes, do not feed raw potatoes to your horse. Raw potatoes are highly likely to poison and harm your horse.

The potato skin has an especially large amount of solanine. In fact, studies have suggested that potato skin has 3 to 10 times more solanine then the rest of the potato. As a result, you should never feed your horse potato skins.

What About Cooked Potatoes?

As we already mentioned, solanine primarily breaks down during the cooking process. This may lead you to think that it is OK to feed your horse cooked potatoes. Although cooked potatoes are likely to have safe amounts of solanine, you do not want to risk exposing your horse to the toxin.

Not to mention, processed potatoes, such as potato chips, contain a number of chemicals and sodium, which will hurt your horse’s digestive tract. This rule does not just apply to processed potato treats. Do not feed your horse processed food in general because their digestive tract is not designed for it.

Plus, cooked potatoes are typically cooked in oils, butters, and other fatty substances. These substances are very fattening and can cause your horse to become even more fat than potatoes alone would.

All around, you should not feed your horse cooked potatoes either. Even though they are unlikely to be toxic, cooked potatoes are not suitable for a horse’s digestive tract, and they can cause your horse to add on even more weight.

Image Credit: Betty Wills (Atsme), Wikimedia Commons

Signs of Potato Poisoning

Because horses are so large, one or two bites of a potato is not going to hurt them. However, if they ingest multiple potatoes or a potato plant, they will typically show multiple signs of potato poisoning. The severity of the symptoms depends on how much was ingested.

Here are the most common forms of mild to moderate potato poisoning in horses:
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Colic
  • Cramping
  • Diarrhea
  • Excessive drooling
  • Excessive swelling
If your horse has consumed a large quantity of potatoes, you can expect more intense symptoms, such as:
  • Confusion
  • Loss of appetite
  • Respiratory distress

What to Do If Your Horse Gets Ahold Of Potatoes

If your horse has stolen a couple bites of a potato, you do not need to be alarmed immediately. Because of their large size, horses are much hardier than people when it comes to consuming toxic or poisonous materials. So, the first step is to estimate how many potatoes they have eaten. One or two bites of some potato chips, for example, is nothing to fret over.

However, you need to contact your veterinarian right away if your horse consumed a large portion of potatoes, especially if they were raw. If your horse is showing any signs of potato poisoning, that is even more of a reason to contact your veterinarian right away.

It is important to beat the clock when it comes to potato poisoning in horses. The faster you contact your veterinarian, the faster they can diagnose the issue and treat it. Usually, treatment involves doses of activated charcoal and neostigmine. If the potato poisoning is caught early on, it should not cause any lasting damage to your horse.

Other Foods in The Nightshade Family

Potatoes are not the only vegetables and plants that you should avoid feeding your horses. As we mentioned above, nightshades are considered one of the most toxic plants to feed your horse.

Here are other common nightshade plants that are toxic to horses:
  • Eggplants
  • Hot peppers (like chili peppers) and non-hot peppers (like bell)
  • Paprika
  • Tomatillos
  • Tomatoes
potatoes-pixabay (3)
Image Credit: RitaE, Pixabay

horse shoe dividerFinal Thoughts

Even though potatoes are a yummy snack for humans, avoid feeding them to your horse. Raw potatoes can be incredibly toxic when consumed in large quantities. Although cooked potatoes are not poisonous, they still are not good for your horse since they can lead to obesity and other issues.

If your horse has eaten some potatoes, remember not to panic and to assess how many potatoes they have eaten first. From there, you can decide whether or not you need to contact your veterinarian for further care.


Featured Image Credit: Couleur, Pixabay

Oliver Jones

Oliver (Ollie) Jones - A zoologist and freelance writer living in South Australia with his partner Alex, their dog Pepper, and their cat Steve (who declined to be pictured). Ollie, originally from the USA, holds his master's degree in wildlife biology and moved to Australia to pursue his career and passion but has found a new love for working online and writing about animals of all types.