Any paddock graced with an oak tree will likely be littered with acorns during the autumn months. Horses may accidentally eat them, and some may even develop a taste for them—how much should you worry?
Acorns are toxic to horses, and when consumed in large enough quantities they can cause problems ranging from diarrhea to colic to kidney failure. Acorns are not, however, as toxic as some plants, and many horses seem to have no reaction to them, even after eating large quantities.
Attempting to remove acorns from a paddock isn’t really feasible, and moving all horses from those spaces may not be practical. A better plan is to closely monitor the horses in your care to see which ones may be developing a taste for the nuts. It may be worthwhile to remove just those horses from the area, if only because of the potential weight they may gain—acorns are energy rich and can fatten a horse quickly.
If a horse with access to fallen acorns develops gastrointestinal signs, from mild colic to loose stools, toxicity is a possible cause even if you haven’t seen the horse consuming them. Call your veterinarian and restrict that horse’s access to acorns until a diagnosis is made.
This article first appeared in EQUUS issue #468, September 2016.