Popcorn is perfectly safe for horses to eat. As long as plain popcorn is served, there’s no need for a horse to be stuck eating hay, grass, and apples day in and day out.
Not only can popcorn be given to a horse to liven up its diet, it can also be fed as a reward or given as a special treat.
Here, we look at the types of popcorn that are suitable for horses, how best to serve it, and what medical conditions prevent a horse from tucking into this moreish treat.
Is Popcorn Healthy for Horses?
It depends on how healthy the horse is. Popcorn contains type-1 resistant starch. When a horse eats starch it’s broken down into glucose which is what gives horses energy. However, excess starch is not healthy for horses, so popcorn should only be fed as a treat.
Some horses have to follow a low starch diet because they have one of the following conditions:
- Polysaccharide storage myopathy (PSSM)
- Recurrent exertional rhabdomyolysis (RER)
- Glucose-induced excitability
Popcorn is not healthy or suitable for a horse with any of these medical problems as it could make these conditions worse.
What Happens If a Horse Eats Too Much Popcorn?
If the horse overindulges on popcorn on just one occasion, it may just suffer from some short-term digestive disturbances.
A horse that regularly feasts on popcorn is at risk of eating too much starch. Excessive starch consumption causes the starch to creep from the small intestine to the hindgut. When there is too much starch in the hindgut, lactic acid is produced. The horse may then experience:
- Colic – a gastrointestinal problem with a range of symptoms. Mild cases may cause a horse to be unusually quiet and withdrawn. When colic is severe, a horse can act dangerously and throw itself around in pain.
- Laminitis – a painful foot problem that can cause the hoof to separate from the distal phalanx.
- Behavioral changes – studies have found that equines eating high starch diets are more alert, more nervous, more reactive, and more unsettled than those on lower starch diets.
Can a Horse Eat Popcorn with Flavorings?
No, it’s best not to give a horse popcorn with flavorings. 31% of people say that their favorite popcorn topping is butter and salt. But you shouldn’t share popcorn with either of these flavorings with a horse.
Butter contains dairy, which horses can’t tolerate. Horses can eat salt, but they shouldn’t eat too much of it as it can cause salt toxicity. This is a dangerous condition that can cause some nasty symptoms, including:
- Increase urination
- Sore mouth
Are Unpopped Kernels Dangerous for Horses?
Unpopped popcorn kernels are a nuisance that you almost always get when eating popcorn. Thankfully, they’re not dangerous for a horse to eat, so there’s no need to worry about picking out unpopped kernels before giving a horse popcorn.
Can a Horse Eat Cheese-Topped Popcorn?
No, horses should not eat cheese-topped popcorn. We all know how delicious cheese on popcorn is and you might be tempted to share it with your horse. But, this is a risky thing to do as horses are lactose intolerant.
Research has found that lactose intolerance is worse in horses over the age of three and causes diarrhea. Foals are less likely to be affected by lactose, but it’s still best to avoid feeding them popcorn covered in cheese.
Is Popcorn Healthier than Corn for Horses?
Yes, popcorn is healthier than corn for horses. When a horse eats popcorn, it goes into a jelly-like state, which makes it easier to absorb. Unpopped corn doesn’t do this, so the small intestine has to work harder.
Will Popcorn Get Stuck in a Horse’s Teeth?
There’s a very good chance that popcorn will get stuck in a horse’s teeth. It’s a problem we’ve all had when we’ve tucked into a bowl of popcorn and horses are no different. You don’t want to leave the popcorn in the horse’s teeth as this may cause tooth decay or sore gums.
If the horse is gentle and will let you get the popcorn out, you can do it carefully with a toothpick. Otherwise, get help from an equine dentist.
What’s the Best Popcorn for a Horse to Eat?
The plainer the popcorn the better it is for a horse to eat. Homemade air-popped popcorn is top of the list, followed by stove-cooked popcorn. If you’re giving stove-cooked popcorn, make sure the oil you use is horse-friendly.
Safe cooking oils for horses include:
Avoid feeding a horse any store-bought popcorn as it may contain artificial ingredients and sweeteners that are not safe for a horse to eat.
How to Feed Popcorn to a Horse
You could just give your horse some pieces of popcorn by hand or in its feeding trough. But this is a little unexciting and your horse may even get bored of popcorn that’s fed to it this way.
Instead, mix the popcorn up with some of the horse’s favorite treats. Here are a few recipe ideas to try:
- Fruity popcorn mix – Mix the popcorn with chopped up apple, pumpkin, and banana. Throw in some raisins and grapes for extra sweetness.
- Orange veggie popcorn – Combine chopped carrots, squash, and sweet potatoes with popcorn.
- Mixed bowl – Throw in some chopped celery, apple, turnips, melon, green beans, raisins, and popcorn.
Popcorn is a delicious snack that you can treat a horse to. Just make sure you’re careful with the type of popcorn you offer and ensure that the horse doesn’t have any underlying health issues that could make eating popcorn dangerous.
Curious to know what other large mammals can eat popcorn?