Everything About Sweet Feed For Horses

Jessica McDaniel
Written by
Last update:

What is Sweet Feed For Horses?

Sweet feed is a term used to label horse feeds packed with ingredients high in sugar content. These types of feeds are ideal for very active horses, but shouldn’t be the only food source for your horse. The most nutritious and healthy horse foods will have a high-fiber content and low sugar content when compared to sweet feed.

Sweet feed is a great way to maintain an acceptable weight on heavily-active horses. This is important especially during the winter months when extra calories will help to keep your horse warm. However, sweet feeds shouldn’t be given to your horse instead of other food sources.

Dangers of over consumption of sweet feed include: obesity, dental cavities, and potential colic. The added sugar will have the same effect on your horse as it would on a person with a sugary beverage: cavities, weight gain, and increased risk of colic.

There are benefits to including sweet feed as part of your horse’s diet, but the benefits are also dependent on the amount of sweet feed you feed your horse.

Purpose of Sweet Feed

Sweet feed can be given to horses as an aid in the prevention or treatment of an existing dental condition due to teeth that are decaying, stuck, broken, or missing. It can also be fed as regular feed to avoid the eruption of teeth (known as "weaning onto a permanent"), but this feeding may not be effective for every horse due to varying degrees of dental necessity.

Sweet feed is typically used in the prevention and treatment of aphthous ulcers, also known as canker or mouth rot. These ulcerations are painful, sometimes dangerous, and sometimes become so severe that the horse has to be removed from service.

Most ulcerations develop on the edges of the teeth (outer surfaces of the upper and lower jaws), but they also can form deep within the cheek. The cause of canker is not entirely understood, but scientists believe that lack of saliva and bacterial contamination from poor oral hygiene are factors.

As sweet feed is highly palatable and causes no harm, it is used as part of a treatment plan. It's the sugar and carbohydrates that cause the mouth ulcers to heal.

Sweet feed is fed to horses on a regular basis (daily or every other day) as part of a heathy diet. This helps to keep the mouth in mint condition and can help to reduce the occurrence of ulcers, providing the horse is using his or her teeth properly.

Pros of Horse Sweet Feed

The main ingredient in sweet feed is molasses, a byproduct of sugar production. This makes sweet feed a very cheap feed for horse owners. Although it is highly palatable, your horse can develop an addiction to sweet feed. Ensure that they get the nutrition they need by providing them with other feeds.

Sweet Feed Brands

There are numerous brands of sweet feed on the market, with differing ingredients. For example, some sweet feed may have corn, which is an unnecessary filler, and some brands may even contain artificial coloring, which is not advised. To learn more about sweet feed, read about the different varieties of sweet feed available on Pet Education.

How to Store Sweet Feed

To keep your sweet feed from spoiling, store it is an airtight container. When your feed has a longer shelf life, it means that you don’t have to buy as often.

Sweet Feed and Stomach Issues

Sweet feed contains a high amount of sugar and this can affect the health of your horse. If you notice your horse is suffering from obesity or has poor health, your horse may have developed a sweet feed addiction. Consider switching to a healthier feed and consult with your vet to find a solution that can suit your horse.

Cons of Sweet Feed

According to a 2006 study in Food and Chemical Toxicology, "sweet feed" for horses is similar to sugar in humans when it comes to the risk of obesity and metabolic syndrome (using fat for metabolic energy rather than glucose or muscle tissue). The risk increases as horses consume more of the sweet feed.

Researchers also found that even normal healthy horses can suffer from nail problems, obesity, and laminitis after consuming just a small amount of sweet feed.

The researchers concluded that there is no evidence to show that sweet feed improves a horse's performance.

The high sugar and fuel source in sweet feed can cause insulin levels to drop and increase the horse’s risk of laminitis. This can be aggravated when horses consume sweet feed in combination with large amounts of grain.

There is also nothing to suggest that substituting sweet feed for another type of grain will prevent the horse from getting fat.

If you “outfit” your pony with a sweet feed bag, it will follow that you will spend more money on food and potentially have a weak pony, with more sugar buildup than allowable. Your best bet is to use hay for the bulk of the horse’s feed. Use sweet feed as the special treat.

Also, an additional benefit of hay is that it offers longer lasting nutrition and has a fuller range of fiber. Hay is the natural food for horses and it will help keep them from being obese.

New Technologies

Horse owners have long been aware of sweet feed benefits, but sweet feed for horses has only recently seen a new and improved transformation.

In the last 30 years, the sweet feed formula has gone through a major change. It’s a good thing too, as the sugar content of the sweet feed has been reduced significantly. This realization was caused by the significant increase in horse obesity in America.


According to the American Horse Council, 10 million horses are overweight. In the U.S. and Canada alone, the number of fat horses is estimated to be 1.5 million.

In addition, today’s high prices for grains and the growing economy has a lot of riders reducing their cost by feeding their horses with consumer-grade sweet feed.

However, a study [Horse] of sweet feed ingredients showed that, despite the apparent low sugar content of some brands, once the feed was fermented in the horse’s gut, it was converted into easily assimilated sugar.

In addition to sugars found in the feed, the same study showed that after fermentation, the sweet feed releases high concentrations of gas which could result in major discomfort and/or health issues for horses.

Alternatives for Sweet Feed

In an ideal world, there would be no need to sweet feed horses because hay and grass are the best food for horses. Clearly, that is not the case for many horses, so what other alternatives do we have other than sweet feed?

Horse cookies and grain mixes.

Make sure you have a grain mix full of high-quality ingredients such as oats, barley, whole corn etc., or that the products used in the mix are top quality horse feeds.

Any supplements and other additives in your horse feed should be used carefully and only after consultation with your vet. A proper diet takes planning and weighing different factors, such as the horse`s age, weight or level of fitness.


Sweet feed for horses is a compact food that looks like a mix of ground grains and hard brown pellets. It’s used for supplementing horses’ diets or for providing an additional energy and protein source, besides forage, hay and grains. It’s typically fed to horses in the winter time to provide extra nutrition in their diet. It is also essential to give sweet feed to starving horses to help them gain weight and build muscle, which is necessary to help them recover from injuries, malnourishment or other conditions.

There are two types of sweet feed:

  • Sweet feed with alfalfa pellets
  • Sweet feed without alfalfa pellets

Some horse owners think that sweet feed can be used as horse treats or to fill nutritional gaps in a horse’s diet because it might be cheaper than supplements. However, feeding too much sweet feed is considered harmful to horses. It can make horses overweight and curently it is not approved as horse treats by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.