Can Horses Throw Up? What You Need To Know

sick horse vomiting

Are Horses Capable of Throwing Up?

As an equestrian, it is important to acquaint yourself with the normal behaviors and reactions of horses. Familiarizing yourself with potential signs of injury or illness allows you to get timely help from a professional veterinarian that could save your horses’ life. One area that is especially important to educate yourself on is the digestive health of your horse.

Can horses throw up? ​The way a horse’s digestive system is designed makes it nearly impossible for them to throw up, even if they are in extreme intestinal distress. In the rare occurrence that a horse vomits, it is almost always fatal, although there are a few instances where a horse has reached a full recovery after this unlikely event.

With vomiting being such a common reaction for both humans and other animals, it seems odd that a horse would not have this ability. However, there are several reasons why the horse was designed in this way.

In this post, we will discuss some of the nitty-gritty details surrounding your horse’s digestive system as well as some of the signs that they may be experiencing a form of intestinal distress.

Understanding Why Horses Rarely Vomit

Several scientific reasons explain why horses simply cannot vomit. A horse’s digestive system is comprised of several different parts, similar to that of a human. As they swallow their food, it travels down their esophagus where it eventually joins the stomach.

Located at this intersection is the esophageal sphincter muscle. This muscle relaxes when a horse is eating, allowing food to enter the stomach. Although humans also possess this muscle, it is much stronger in a horse. The strength of the esophageal sphincter muscle, along with the position of the stomach, prevents the valve from opening backward.

The angle at which the esophagus of a horse joins the stomach is much lower than that of other animals. When your horse experiences indigestion and bloating, the stomach presses up against the valve causing it to remain closed. Because of this, vomiting is nearly impossible for horses.

Instances When a Horse Might Vomit Unhealthy horse

While the design of the digestive tract of a horse makes it nearly impossible for them to throw up, there are rare instances where vomiting may occur. Unfortunately, pressure caused by a severely distended stomach may eradicate the valve that prevents vomiting.

Once again, this is highly unlikely, stomach distension in a horse must be extreme to result in vomiting. Extreme stomach pressure caused by food or gas most often leads to the rupturing of the stomach walls. This, of course, typically leads to infection of the abdomen lining, a condition that is usually fatal.

There have been a handful of cases where a horse has recovered after vomiting. However, it is imperative that you contact an emergency veterinarian immediately following any type of severe illness such as this.

Reasons Why Horses Do Not Have the Ability to Throw Up

We know the scientific reasoning behind a horse’s inability to throw up. But, why were horses created this way while other animals vomit frequently? Isn’t vomiting, after all, a defense mechanism against poison and toxic foods?

While we may never know the actual reasoning behind this design, there are many reasons why the design of a horse’s digestive system is optimal for their daily life.

In the wild, horses are known as prey for many other animals. Because of this, they frequently have to run, often in the middle of grazing. This would create severe intestinal distress for humans or other animals, resulting in vomiting. Horses, however, can run away at a moment’s notice, no matter what they were snacking on.

More often than not, a horse is found grazing with their head down. Without the strong esophageal sphincter that prevents vomiting, gravity may work against the horse, causing them to lose their meal. Since horses graze throughout the day, they must have a digestive system that supports consistent digestion without interruption.

The Dangers of a Horse Not Being Able to Throw Up

Although a horse’s inability to throw up has many benefits, there are dangers to this design. As an equestrian, it is important to understand these dangers so that you are prepared to intervene if necessary.

Throwing up is a natural response to anything that is toxic or causes discomfort. Without the ability to throw up, your horse is not able to deal with discomfort or intestinal pain. Unfortunately, they are left to simply wait it out, in hopes that the indigestion is relieved over time.

Your horse could experience intestinal discomfort as a result of eating something that is toxic to them. However, they can also have a negative reaction due to overeating. Because of this, it is your responsibility as their primary caretaker to protect them from foods that could cause discomfort or illness.

If your horse accidentally ingests something that is toxic to their system or simply eats too much food, it is important to contact your veterinarian as soon as possible.

Choking Hazard

Throwing up is also one of the ways that most animals recover after they choke. Horses do not have a good way of doing this. Most often, horses choke because they are eating too quickly.

Unlike humans, it can be hard to tell if your horse is choking. They may even seem to be breathing normally. However, if your horse is choking, they will likely begin to appear weak, depressed, and even unwilling to eat. Some horses may begin to panic or aggressively stretch their neck in attempts to clear the blockage.

You may be able to feel along the neck of your horse for any strange bumps that shouldn’t be there. At the first sign of your horse choking, remove any food from their reach and contact your veterinarian. Do your best to keep your horse calm until a professional can remove any obstruction from their throat, eliminating the danger of choking.

How to Handle Issues With Your Horse’s Digestive Tract

Because your horse does not have a great way to deal with indigestion, it is important to take care of their digestive tract to prevent issues before they arise.

Provide Your Horse With Appropriate Feed Can horses throw up

If your horse seems uncomfortable regularly, it is wise to reach out to your veterinarian for advice on your horse’s dietary needs. You may find that changing your feed, feeding schedule, location, or calorie intake will eliminate any digestive issues your horse is experiencing.

Supplement Your Horse’s Dietary Needs

Just like humans, some horses are not able to get proper nutrients from grass or normal feeds. Fortunately, there are many equine supplements available to ensure that your horse remains in great health. It is important to consult with an equine nutritionist or veterinarian before adding supplements to your horse’s diet.

If your horse suffers from regular digestive issues, you may want to consider a digestive supplement that can help calm their digestive tract and prevent gastric ulcers. Antacids, fiber, collagen, aloe, and licorice are often used to improve the digestive health of horses.

Many equestrians also give their horse probiotics to support proper digestion and prevent colic. If your horse is a picky eater, they may refuse to eat if they taste add supplements. There are, however, many ways to disguise supplements and train your horse to eat their supplements without hesitation.

Eliminate Potential Hazards For Your Horse

This should go without saying but as a horse owner, it is your responsibility to eliminate potential hazards in your horse’s environment. Certain plants, nightshades, and even seemingly harmless treats can cause intense intestinal distress and even death.

You can learn more about different plants that are poisonous for horses in the article I wrote here.

Provide Your Horse With Plenty of Exercise

Movement and exercise will help encourage optimal digestion. It is important to make sure that you are providing your horse with enough exercise to maintain a healthy system. Even as little as 20 minutes a day in a pen or riding area will help to prevent gas buildup and indigestion. Here’s my guide for some of my favorite ways to exercise a horse.

Look for Signs of Discomfort

Your horse will know when they are experiencing indigestion and intestinal discomfort. It is your responsibility as the owner to notice the signs they are sending and intervene as needed. Agitation, loss of appetite, resistance to exercise, or any change in attitude could be signs that your horse is experiencing indigestion. As you begin to learn the normal behaviors and patterns of your horse, you will be able to more clearly recognize signs of illness or injury.

Final Thoughts

As a horse owner for many years, I’ve experienced a wide range of illnesses and injuries with my horses. Learning more about their normal responses to these unfortunate events allows me to intervene and provide relief when necessary by contacting a veterinarian.

Timely intervention during indigestion or other health scares is crucial to the overall health and wellbeing of your equine companion. If you are ever questioning the health or condition of your horse, it is important to contact a professional equine nutritionist or veterinarian for advice. After all, your horse is relying on you to provide them with the best quality care available. Owning a horse is a privilege and a gift, it is important to treat it as such.

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Carmella Abel, Pro Horse Trainer

Hi! I’m Carmella

My husband and I started Equine Helper to share what we’ve learned about owning and caring for horses. I’ve spent my whole life around horses, and I currently own a POA named Tucker. You can learn more here.

Thank you for reading, and happy trails!

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