Equine Taste Preferences

A small study from 2013 might help in making medications or supplements more palatable for horses.

The study looked at how much aversion horses have to certain tastes. iStock/Alexandra Surkova

Veterinarians and horse owners are often faced with providing medications and/or supplements in feed, making it necessary to improvise to find what is most palatable to each patient. An older study bears repeating for its informative assessment of horses’ preference for sweet or sour [Merkies, K. and Bogart, E. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science 2013, vol. 33; p. 330.]

The study looked at how much aversion horses have to certain tastes.

Five adult horses were offered two identical black water buckets—one contained tap water and the other contained one of three possible concoctions: 

  • tap water
  • sucrose
  • citric acid
  • citric acid and sucrose. 

The two bucket “flavors” were offered to each horse for four consecutive days, then they were given no treatment for three days. The offerings then began again with flavoring of the second bucket altered. This process was repeated until all horses had an opportunity to have all different choices along with the first bucket of straight tap water.

The amount of fluid intake of respective buckets was measured to determine taste preferences. The results:

  • There was weak rejection to citric acid, i.e., sour taste.
  • There was moderate rejection to sucrose, i.e., sweet taste.
  • Three of five horses rejected any treatment with the other two horses demonstrating a minimal level of preference.
  • Citric acid was preferred over sucrose; the citric acid plus sucrose combination was consumed in amounts similar to citric acid. The authors speculate that the citric acid masks the sweet taste.

While the study included only a small number of horses, this information might serve as a starting place for administration of nutritional, pharmaceutical and nutraceutical additives to feed. 

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