Can Horses Drink Beer–Will Beer Hurt a Horse?
Trying to find pertinent information on this topic is like trying to find a unicorn, many people believe they exist but no one has seen one.
“Giving beer to horses won’t hurt them and makes their coats shiny.” I have heard this folklore and comments like this for many years. I have seen many people give their horses beer. It seems like a popular subject and a much talked-about idea. In my gut, it does not sound right, and does not seem to pass the “smell test.” Giving horses beer just seems too easy and unnatural for it to be good. For the record, I don’t give my horses beer. I also don’t give them sugar cubes, peppermint hard-candy, hamburgers and many other things that other people like to give to their horses.
A quick look at a horse’s digestive system:
A horse’s digestive system is modern marvel. A horse’s mouth starts the process with teeth and salivary glands. The process proceeds to a four-foot esophagus leading to the stomach. A horse’s stomach holds about 4.5 gallons where food and liquids are held for further break down. Once something enters the stomach there is only one way out. From the stomach, the food enters 60 to 70 feet of small intestines. The small intestines are where most of the digestion occurs. Then the remaining solids are moved through about 15 feet of large intestines, which contain the cecum and colon. Therefore, anything entering the mouth travels about 90 to 100 feet before it leaves the body. This is why bad hay, bad food or bad water does so much damage; it has lots of time to continue to grow unhealthy bacteria and cause problems along the way.
Note: Horses cannot vomit or get rid of bad things once past the mouth and enter into the esophagus.
NOTE on Digestion Part: I received an email with some additional information and philosophy on the horse’s digestive operation. It makes sense to me so I though I would add it for those that may want the additional information:
“You say ‘most of the digestion’ takes place in the small intestine. Whether ‘most’ is correct depends a bit on what digestion you are talking about. For food items that are not high in cellulose (including beer, I suppose), it would be correct. But the highly cellulosic foods, including hay and coarser grasses, undergo a large portion, probably most, of their digestion in the Cecum. The Cecum of the horse is the functional analog of the rumen of a cow, and it is the place where bacteria break down complex carbohydrates, particularly cellulose.
For your readers, understanding the function and importance of the Cecum will help them understand why it is necessary to change the diet of a horse (such as hay to grass pasture, or no grain to a regular grain supplement) gradually. The Cecum of the horse is very large, the digestive process there is slow, and the bacterial population needs to change if the type of food entering the Cecum changes. Therefore, rapid changes in diet, such as moving horses abruptly onto rich grass, or concentrated alfalfa; or suddenly increasing their grain allotment, upsets the digestion, causes diarrhea, maybe even colic, etc. until there has been enough time for the bacterial populations to adapt to the new type of food they have to digest.
Digestive physiology can be used as another good reason to leave horses out all year long: when spring comes, the grass doesn’t just shoot up overnight and provide lush grazing. It comes on slowly, giving the horses a gradual transition from the hay supplements they need over winter, through a period of sprouting and therefore limited grass, to the full pasture growth of the late spring and early summer. Then the grass dies back gradually and they switch to more hay supplement. All this is gradual and allows for gradual adjustment of cecal bacterial populations.”
My philosophy is, as with most things involving a horse, “Less is more.” The less you give or do to a horse, the better off they tend to be. Conversely, the more people try to help, save, improve, and try new things for the horse; the horse normally ends up suffering. I don’t like trying or experimenting with my horses since they pay for my mistakes. Horses are living, breathing and feeling animals that trust us and allow us to use abuse and do what we want with them. Abusing that trust is not admirable and is NOT in the spirit of “Good Horsemanship.” Therefore, when people lackadaisically try new things or attempt things they see others do with their horses, thereby abusing that trust, I think that is bad behavior. Giving a horse alcohol, drugs, marijuana, meats, raw eggs and other things that a horse would never have access to in the wild, are dangerous and could be deadly for the horse. As a Horseman and steward of the horse, we should not do things that could harm or kill our horse.
Now, with that said, I am going to go over some things that I have found while doing research on this topic. Some I agree with, some I think are just plain ignorant and with some I am on the fence, or undecided on. The purpose of this is to get you thinking and to provide more information and facts so you can make a better decision when it comes to your horse and this topic.
DISCLAIMER: This is my opinion based on my research and experience with horses. As always, do not substitute anyone’s advice or opinion for your own; your horse–your responsibility.
So, is beer good or bad for horses? It Depends! It depends on many factors such as the horse, why you are giving it, what type you use, how you give it, how much you give and how often you give it. If you Google this topic, you will find more conflicting information, myths and quotes than Chins in a Chinese phone book. However, what you will not find is ONE scientific study or any empirical evidence on this topic. If you do, send it to me and I would like to read it. With the lack of any scientific evidence or proof on the pros or cons of giving beer to horses, it is difficult, at best, to try and defend either position. However, there is some information that can be used to make a more educated decision. I will try to point these out as I go on.
everywhere I could, trying to collect scientific or medical information on
this, I finally called the lead Colic Veterinarian at an advanced veterinarian
He said he would not give beer to horses for colic and would NOT recommend it. Since a horse can’t vomit, and during a colic situation, the stomach is already stressed and expanded with pressure, giving a carbonated drink like beer would likely increase that pressure in the stomach. He also told me that he checked the National Institute of Science directory to see if any research or papers were published on this topic. He said there was NO record found and he could not locate any information or study on this topic. He stated that since a horse can’t vomit or get rid of gas in the stomach, beer could extend the stomach and make matters worse. Beer, like yogurt, can also change the PH in a horse’s stomach. This can affect both good and bad bacteria, making matters worse.
NOTE: He did tell me that in rare circumstances, Coke (the soft drink), has been given to a horse, but only in rare situations where a very specific type of bacteria was found, and Coke tended to help fight that specific bacteria. A test needs to be conducted to ensure that specific bacterium is in the stomach before deciding to use Coke. Therefore, DO NOT try this or you may end up making things worse and killing your horse.
Now, I know there may be some who would say this previous information is good enough, and so, are not going to give their horse beer; I lean toward that belief and decision. However, as I said, I want this to inform you, so I am going to provide both sides of this argument so you can decide. However, this vet works and teaches at a leading veterinary college so he has a high degree of credibility with me. As you will see, and as we move along, most other things I am going to say come from Race-horse trainers, back-wood horse owners, know-it-alls and one other vet who likes to sell things on her web-site (so her credibility is questionable). You might be thinking I have made up my mind and I am obviously leading you to a “No” or “Never” position. Read on. You might be surprised.
So what would be some reasons that someone would want to give a horse beer? I will list some of those reasons here. Some have good intentions while others just seem down right stupid:
· In the days before wormers, old cowboys would give beer to horses to kill worms (early Dewormer).
· “If cowboys give beer to their horses, it must be good for them;” (“dumb” category).
· “Horses like the taste of beer so, ‘they would know.’”
· “Race-horse trainers give beer all the time and those horses are expensive so it must be good.” (Yep, anyone knows that people who make money on horses only do what is good for them–idiots).
· Beer gives horses extra calories and since horses like it, they eat more and put on weight.
· Beer makes a horse sweat and cool quicker (no proof, just hearsay).
· A horse suffering from anhydrosis (inability to sweat) will sweat if given beer (this seems one of the most popular beliefs).
· Since horses like it, you can use it to give medicines that taste bad (alcohol may defeat or impair the medicine).
· “Beer should not hurt a horse; I have never seen one die from beer;” (“idiot” category).
· Beer relaxes horses and takes away some pain when jumping (abusive idiots).
· A rich dark beer helps a brood mare produce more milk for the baby (belief, no proof).
· Beer gives a horse a nice shiny coat.
· Dogs and humans drink beer and it does not hurt them.
· Beer is made from oats and horses eat oats, so it must be “OK.”
· Beer contains a lot of calories and is an appetite-stimulant so underweight horses eat more.
· Beer contains antioxidants and is good for the heart in humans (some proof in humans).
· Beer just tastes good, horse like it and it is just boiled grains (not true but sounds good).
· “My horse would only take his allergy meds with beer mixed into the feed.” (Really? I hope that your baby does not need vodka to take their vitamins.)
· “I think it has to do with the yeast and digestion so it can’t be bad for them;” (nice guess).
· The yeast in beer aids in digestion and is relaxing to horses (no proof).
· “My farrier said my horse acts better if I give him a beer before he works on him.” (Is your Farrier an alcohol expert, too?)
· “Beer is just liquid bread;” (spoken by a true alcoholic).
· “Horses promote Budweiser beer so it must be good for them.” (“Here’s your sign.”)
· “I have seen horses given beer in the movies, so it must be Ok.” (You get a “sign,” too.)
· “We give beer to our horses that do not sweat well and it seems to work.”
· “I think beer helps our horses gain weight and it keeps their coats nice.” (Really? No horse that does not drink beer can have a nice coat?)
As you can see
from these justifications, anyone can find something they like from the above
list and use one or more to justify why they give their horse beer.
Now, I will list some reasons NOT to give your horse beer:
· There is no scientific study or test proving it is safe and will not harm your horse. (I like this one.)
· I have seen it in the movies–many things in the movies are fake.
· Cowboys do it.
· Alcohol can cause dehydration and alcohol can do it quicker to an animal with a faster metabolism.
· Beer contains purines, which increase the level of uric acid in joints, leading to gout. It seems the purines come from the baker’s yeast (680 purines) and brewer’s yeast (2071 purines) compared to yogurt which has a count of 8.1 purines.
· Information about Yeast and Horses:
· Moderate ethanol use is a risk-factor for gastric ulcers in people, and all alcoholic drinks have ethanol. (Ulcers are already a big problem for horses.)
· We should not confuse 18th century folklore with modern day knowledge.
· No proof or scientific evidence exists to show it is safe or has any benefit.
NOTE: For the Show People--you can't show the horse if you're giving him beer -- it's an illegal substance per the USEF (United States Equestrian Federation).
My Synopsis of this Popular Folklore:
Guinness beer or dark beer seem to be popular choices, and the belief is that dark beer works better than other beers since it is refined less and has a higher concentration of vitamins. The reason for this belief is richer barley and oats are used in dark beers. To avoid the alcohol issues, you could use a non-alcoholic beer, but that does not change the other problems that may occur. If, in fact, beer is an appetite stimulant, it may encourage horses to eat more. If horses like the taste of beer and will eat things like medicine and needed grain, then, with moderate use, it may help a horse eat. If a horse is in early stage of colic and has stopped eating, beer may stimulate the horse to eat, but this could be bad or good. Without knowing exactly what is wrong, it may not be good for the horse to eat more.
There is talk that
Guinness made special-sized bottles for the maternity ward in
CRITICAL TIP: If you decide that you want to give beer to your horse this is a critical point to remember--beer should be given at room temperature and it should be opened for several hours before serving. You could pour the beer into cups several times to REMOVE the fizz and carbonation, before feeding to horses, which is what the room temperature and leaving open for hours should do.
Here is an article where a veterinarian states that giving beer to horses is not harmful. She does not site sources or back up her belief with any evidence, but she does approve of this.
Article where a vet said beer is good:
Earlier, I mentioned anhydrosis, the inability to sweat and cool. This is a complex subject so I have attached a link if you want to read about it. There is no proof or evidence that beer counters this condition, but many seem to think it does.
This is a very good article about Dehydration and Electrolyte Losses in Horses:
Other OLD wives’ tales about promoting sweating:
Adding coffee grounds to the feed is one old Cajun trick that some claim is effective. Adding beer to the feed is another method that has proven helpful in some cases. "Lite" salt (a combination of regular salt and potassium chloride) can also be added to the horse's daily grain ration to help promote sweating. (Again, there are no proofs or studies to prove or disprove these).
Fact: Interestingly, the Mayo Clinic found that alcoholism is listed as a cause of anhydrosis. This would seem to counter the idea that beer is helpful for anhydrosis.
Report from a Race Horse Trainer that likes Beer for Horses:
So, in conclusion, Is Beer Good or Bad for horses? It Depends.
Additional Note on Alcohol Concerns: I was asked about the affect of the alcohol on a horse’s brain. This subject does not come up much since most people seem to only give their horse one beer and for other things than to get the horse drunk. Since it takes 4 or 5 beers to get a 200 pound person a little drunk, in order to get a horse drunk, it would take four or five times that amount. Therefore, unless some dummy is giving a horse a case of beer, alcohol effects on the brain issue would not be considered a life-threatening situation, unless it was given in large quantities. Since humans are selfish and cheap, most would not spend that much money on their horse, which is probably a good thing. Getting drunk is near as risky as the possibility of Colic, which can cause death.
I did a video on this topic and it is posted on Youtube, the link is here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M4-Ywwr0Tmg
Rick Gore Horsemanship