Why Do Horses Eat Tree Bark?

Horses eating tree bark is a behavior known as bark chewing. While it may seem unusual, there are several reasons why horses engage in this behavior.

One common reason is that horses might be lacking certain nutrients in their diet, such as fiber or minerals. Chewing on tree bark provides them with a source of roughage and additional minerals.

Another reason is boredom or lack of stimulation. Horses may chew on tree bark out of habit or to relieve stress. Providing them with appropriate toys or activities can help redirect this behavior.

However, it’s important to note that excessive bark chewing can be harmful to horses’ dental health and the trees themselves. Consulting with a veterinarian or equine nutritionist is recommended to address any underlying issues and ensure the horse’s well-being.

why do horses eat tree bark

Common Reasons Why Horses Resort to Eating Tree Bark

Horses are known for their grazing behavior and are generally content with a diet consisting of grass, hay, and grain. However, there are instances where horses resort to eating tree bark, which is not their natural diet. This behavior, known as tree bark chewing or cribbing, can indicate an underlying issue that needs to be addressed. In this section, we will explore some of the common reasons why horses may resort to eating tree bark.

Dietary Deficiencies

One possible reason for horses eating tree bark is a deficiency in their diet. Horses require a balanced diet that provides them with all the necessary nutrients and minerals. If their diet lacks certain essential elements, they may be compelled to seek alternative sources of nutrition. Tree bark can contain some trace minerals that horses might be lacking, leading them to resort to this behavior.

It is important for horse owners to ensure that their horses are receiving a well-balanced diet that meets their nutritional needs. Consulting with a veterinarian or equine nutritionist can help identify any deficiencies and develop a suitable diet plan.

Boredom or Stress

Horses are intelligent and active animals that require mental and physical stimulation. When they are kept in environments with limited turnout or lack of interaction, they can become bored or stressed. This can manifest in various behaviors, including tree bark chewing.

Chewing on tree bark may provide horses with a form of entertainment or a means of relieving stress. It can occupy their time and alleviate their boredom, especially when they do not have access to sufficient grazing or other forms of enrichment.

Providing horses with regular turnout, social interaction, and engaging activities can help prevent boredom and reduce the likelihood of them resorting to eating tree bark.

Gastrointestinal Issues

Another reason horses may exhibit tree bark chewing is due to gastrointestinal issues. Digestive problems such as ulcers or colic can cause discomfort or pain, leading horses to seek relief by chewing on tree bark. The act of chewing can stimulate saliva production, which may help soothe their digestive system.

If a horse is displaying signs of gastrointestinal distress, such as decreased appetite, weight loss, or abnormal stool consistency, it is important to consult with a veterinarian for proper diagnosis and treatment.

Behavioral Problems

Some horses develop behavioral problems that can manifest in various ways, including tree bark chewing. This behavior can become a habit or a compulsive behavior known as cribbing. Cribbing is characterized by the horse grasping onto an object, such as a fence or tree, and arching its neck while sucking in air.

Cribbing is not only harmful to the horse’s teeth and digestive system but can also lead to other health issues. It is essential to address behavioral problems promptly through proper training, environmental modifications, and potential use of anti-cribbing devices recommended by equine professionals.

In summary, horses resort to eating tree bark for various reasons, including dietary deficiencies, boredom or stress, gastrointestinal issues, and behavioral problems such as cribbing. Understanding the underlying cause is crucial in addressing this behavior and ensuring the well-being of the horse. Consulting with equine professionals and implementing appropriate solutions, such as a balanced diet, enrichment activities, and behavioral training, can help prevent horses from resorting to eating tree bark.

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Potential Health Concerns for Horses Consuming Tree Bark

While horses are known for their ability to graze on grass and hay, they may occasionally consume tree bark, either intentionally or accidentally. While small amounts of tree bark may not pose significant harm, there are potential health concerns that horse owners should be aware of.

Toxicity

One of the major concerns when it comes to horses consuming tree bark is the potential for toxicity. Certain species of trees, such as yew, black walnut, and red maple, contain toxins that can be harmful to horses if ingested. These toxins can lead to symptoms ranging from digestive upset to organ failure and even death.

It is essential for horse owners to be familiar with the types of trees present in their pastures and turnout areas. If any toxic trees are identified, it is important to take immediate action to prevent horses from accessing the bark. This may include removing the trees entirely, fencing off the area, or using deterrent sprays to discourage horses from consuming the bark.

Digestive Issues

Ingesting large amounts of tree bark can also lead to digestive issues in horses. Tree bark is not easily digestible, especially the outer layer, which is often tough and fibrous. Ingesting excessive amounts of bark can lead to blockages in the digestive system, causing discomfort, pain, and potential complications such as colic.

To prevent digestive issues, horse owners should ensure that their horses have access to a balanced diet that includes adequate forage. Providing enough hay or grass can help satisfy the horse’s natural grazing behavior and reduce the likelihood of them seeking out tree bark as an alternative food source.

Dental Concerns

Another potential issue associated with horses consuming tree bark is dental concerns. Chewing on hard, abrasive surfaces like tree bark can cause excessive wear on the horse’s teeth. This can result in uneven tooth surfaces, sharp points, and even dental fractures.

Regular dental check-ups and floating procedures should be part of the horse’s healthcare routine to address any dental issues that may arise. Additionally, providing appropriate chew toys or treats can help satisfy the horse’s natural chewing instincts and reduce the likelihood of them resorting to chewing on tree bark.

Parasite Transmission

Tree bark can serve as a potential breeding ground for parasites and insects. When horses consume tree bark, there is a risk of ingesting these parasites or their eggs, leading to internal infestations. Common parasites that can be transmitted through tree bark include bot larvae.

Implementing a regular deworming schedule, as recommended by a veterinarian, can help prevent parasite infestations in horses. Additionally, practicing good pasture management and cleaning up fallen branches and debris can minimize the presence of potential parasite breeding grounds in the horse’s environment.

In summary, while horses consuming small amounts of tree bark may not pose significant harm, there are potential health concerns that horse owners should be aware of. It is important to identify and prevent access to toxic trees, provide a balanced diet to minimize the horse’s desire for alternative food sources, address any dental issues, and take measures to prevent parasite transmission. Regular veterinary care and a proactive approach to horse health can help mitigate the potential risks associated with horses consuming tree bark.

Managing and Preventing Tree Bark Consumption in Horses

Tree bark consumption in horses can be a concerning behavior that can have negative impacts on their health and safety. Horses may engage in this behavior due to various reasons, including nutritional deficiencies, boredom, or simply out of curiosity. It is important for horse owners and caretakers to understand the potential risks associated with tree bark consumption and take necessary measures to manage and prevent this behavior.

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1. Identifying the Causes

Before implementing any preventive measures, it is essential to determine the underlying causes of tree bark consumption in horses. This can be done through careful observation and consultation with a veterinarian or equine behaviorist. Nutritional deficiencies, such as lack of roughage or specific minerals, can lead to a horse seeking alternative sources of nutrients from tree bark. Boredom or stress can also trigger this behavior, indicating the need for environmental enrichment.

1.1 Nutritional Deficiencies

Horses require a balanced diet consisting of adequate roughage, minerals, and vitamins. If their regular feed does not meet these requirements, they may resort to consuming tree bark to fulfill their nutritional needs. It is important to consult with a veterinarian or equine nutritionist to assess the horse’s diet and make any necessary adjustments to ensure proper nutrition.

1.2 Environmental Enrichment

Horses are naturally active and social animals, and a lack of mental stimulation and physical exercise can lead to behavioral issues, including tree bark consumption. Providing an enriched environment with ample turnout time, social interaction with other horses, and engaging activities can help alleviate boredom and reduce the likelihood of horses turning to tree bark as a source of entertainment.

2. Removing Accessibility

One of the most effective ways to manage and prevent tree bark consumption is to physically remove horses’ access to trees or areas where tree bark is easily accessible. This can be achieved by fencing off trees or using electric fencing to create a barrier. It is important to ensure that the fencing is secure and free from any hazards that may cause injury to the horse.

3. Providing Alternative Options

Offering horses alternative options for chewing and entertainment can divert their attention from tree bark. Providing them with sufficient roughage through hay or haylage can help satisfy their natural chewing instinct. Additionally, offering horse-safe toys or treat dispensers can provide mental stimulation and keep them occupied, reducing their inclination to consume tree bark.

4. Veterinary Intervention

If tree bark consumption persists despite implementing preventive measures, it is advisable to seek veterinary intervention. A veterinarian can conduct a thorough examination to rule out any underlying medical conditions that may be causing the behavior. They may recommend specific dietary supplements or medications to address the issue and provide appropriate treatment.

5. Monitoring and Supervision

Regular monitoring and supervision of horses can help detect any signs of tree bark consumption early on. Proactively observing their behavior and environment can allow for timely intervention and necessary adjustments to their management. It is important to ensure that horses have access to a well-maintained, clean, and appropriately enriched environment to discourage tree bark consumption.

6. Training and Behavior Modification

Working with a professional horse trainer or behaviorist can be beneficial in addressing and modifying undesirable behaviors such as tree bark consumption. They can assist in implementing training techniques and behavior modification strategies to redirect the horse’s focus onto more desirable activities. Positive reinforcement and consistent training methods can help break the habit of tree bark consumption over time.

7. Seeking Professional Advice

If the issue of tree bark consumption in horses persists despite all preventive measures and interventions, it is recommended to seek professional advice from a veterinarian, equine behaviorist, or an experienced horse owner. They can provide further guidance and suggest additional measures based on their expertise and knowledge.

In summary, managing and preventing tree bark consumption in horses involves identifying the causes, removing accessibility, providing alternative options, seeking veterinary intervention if necessary, monitoring and supervision, training, and seeking professional advice. By addressing the root causes and implementing appropriate preventive measures, horse owners can ensure the well-being and safety of their equine companions.

Alternative Feeding Options to Reduce Tree Bark Consumption in Horses

Horses are herbivores that rely primarily on grass and hay for their nutritional needs. However, some horses may engage in abnormal behaviors such as tree bark consumption, which can lead to various health issues. Tree bark consumption in horses can be a sign of nutritional deficiencies, boredom, or even dental problems. To address this issue, it is important to provide alternative feeding options that can redirect the horse’s behavior and meet its nutritional requirements.

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1. Increased Forage Availability

One of the primary reasons horses resort to tree bark consumption is due to insufficient forage availability. By providing an ample amount of high-quality forage such as grass or hay, horses are less likely to exhibit abnormal behaviors. Ensure that the forage is easily accessible and distributed throughout the day to mimic their natural grazing behavior.

2. Grazing Muzzle

A grazing muzzle can be a useful tool to restrict the horse’s ability to consume tree bark. This device allows the horse to graze on grass but limits its ability to bite or strip bark from trees. Grazing muzzles are made from durable materials and can be worn for extended periods, providing a safe and effective solution to prevent tree bark consumption.

3. Enrichment Activities

Boredom and lack of mental stimulation can contribute to tree bark consumption in horses. Providing enrichment activities can redirect their attention and prevent them from engaging in destructive behaviors. Some examples of enrichment activities include the use of treat balls, hanging toys, or puzzle feeders. These activities not only stimulate the horse’s mind but also provide additional nutritional benefits.

4. Nutritional Evaluation

If a horse continues to exhibit tree bark consumption despite the implementation of alternative feeding options, it is important to conduct a thorough nutritional evaluation. Consult with a veterinarian or equine nutritionist to assess the horse’s diet and identify any potential deficiencies. Adjustments can be made to ensure the horse is receiving all the necessary nutrients through its regular feed or by introducing supplements if needed.

5. Environmental Modification

Modifying the horse’s environment can also help reduce tree bark consumption. Fencing off trees or creating physical barriers around them can prevent the horse from accessing the bark. Additionally, providing ample turnout time in a well-grazed pasture can decrease the horse’s inclination to seek alternative food sources such as tree bark.

In summary, addressing tree bark consumption in horses requires a multi-faceted approach. By increasing forage availability, utilizing grazing muzzles, providing enrichment activities, conducting nutritional evaluations, and modifying the horse’s environment, horse owners and caretakers can effectively reduce or eliminate this abnormal behavior. It is important to remember that each horse is unique, and a tailored approach may be necessary to address the underlying causes of tree bark consumption.

FAQs

Why do horses eat tree bark?

Horses may eat tree bark due to various reasons such as nutritional deficiencies, boredom, or lack of forage. However, it is important to note that eating excessive amounts of tree bark can be harmful to horses and should be discouraged.

Conclusion:

In conclusion, the act of horses eating tree bark may seem unusual, but it serves a purpose. While horses primarily graze on grass, they may resort to chewing on tree bark due to reasons like nutritional deficiencies or boredom. However, it is important to note that excessive consumption of tree bark can be harmful to their digestive system.


As responsible horse owners, it is essential to ensure that our equine companions have a balanced diet and access to proper grazing areas. Regular veterinary check-ups and consultation with equine nutritionists can help identify any underlying issues that may be causing this behavior. Providing appropriate alternatives such as high-quality forage or suitable toys can also help prevent horses from resorting to eating tree bark.