Can Horses Eat Cattails? (Explained for Beginners)

By Zunnun Ahmed •  Updated: 09/08/22 •  8 min read

Scenic view of the clouds, sunshine, shore of pretty blue lake, and creeping cattails. 

Simply soothing and beautiful!

Cattails are commonly found in ponds and lakes in the U.S.A. These plants grow around water sources and are often kept in gardens if enough space is available. 

Since it is wild, many horse owners are worried about its potential health risks. As a result, the obvious question arises, can horses eat cattails? Are cattails poisonous?

For most horses, it doesn’t create any health complications, while some horse owners find it mildly toxic for their horses with colic issues. You have to be cautious enough to feed cattails to your horses. A few factors need to be considered before feeding cattails to your horse.

But first……what are cattails? are cattails poisonous to horses?

Cattails are wetland plants with unusual flowering spikes and leaves that look like flat blades. The height of their leaves is 3 – 10 ft. 

These common plants grow in wetlands and along ponds. You will find 2 species of cattails in your nearest swamp: 

The most interesting part is……..

The growing and spreading rate of cattails is pretty rigorous. Fluffy seed heads grow in pollinated flowers. Then, the seed blows across the pond in the autumn wind. They can also spread with the help of the root system. 

Their root is white and thick, known as rhizomes. The root grows underground on the edges of ponds or shallow soils.

No wonder, cattails spread and grow in flooded conditions best. The rhizomes are starchy and used for feeding animals like horses.  

Cattails can’t be grown in the pot since they require a large growing area to thrive. Cattails sway in the breeze during early fall or summer with their starchy brown seed head. These plants grow well in any water source around the U.S.A. and Canada. 

This plant is non-toxic for horses, humans, dogs, and other livestock. In fact, this is one of the versatile plants found in the wetland. Cattails are listed in the top 20 edible wild plants in Northern America.

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So…….can horses eat cattails?

The straightforward answer is, yes, horses can eat cattails as these plants are packed with fibers and vitamins. However, don’t feed a large number of cattails to your horse. Feed them if other plants or grass are unavailable.

Happily, most parts of this plant can be eaten without hassle. 

You can feed the shoots, the stalks, and the cattail flowers before seeding the roots to your horses. 

Now, before feeding, there are a few considerations that you need to keep in mind. 

can horses eat cattails?

How can horses benefit from eating cattails?

Cattails offer many health benefits to horses. But before getting into the benefits, let’s look at the nutritional value of this plant.

Vitamins & mineralsAmount per 19 g of cattails
Manganese0.144 mg
Vitamin K4.3 µg
Magnesium12 mg
Dietary Fiber0.17 mg
Iron0.17 mg
Vitamin B60.023 mg
Sodium21 mg

Increases energy steadily

Carbohydrates are a big energy source, and cattails are a great option for carbohydrates. As a result, this plant increases the energy level of your horse. 

Interestingly, the breakdown of the cattail’s carbohydrates is pretty slow. For this reason, your horse can run for a whole day without showing tiredness.

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Improves digestion

If your horse has a sensitive tummy, cattails will be a good solution to improve digestion. Cattails consist of both insoluble and soluble fiber, which is necessary for good digestion. 

Soluble fibers resist cholesterol absorption. 

On the other hand, insoluble fibers improve the movement of waste in the system. So, the inclusion of cattails in your horse’s food list will help minimize different digestion problems.

Helps gain weight

Everyone loves healthy horses. If you own any underweight horse, cattails will gain weight. In this case, you will need to mix cattails with other hay or grass and feed them to your horse. 

Cattails are enriched with calories and carbohydrates that boost the weight gain process. Therefore, this plant is one of the best options for underweight horses to gain the required body weight.

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What happens if a horse eats too many cattails?

Cattail pollen is low-toxic. 

Also, proven side effects of this plant have not been found so far. 

But that doesn’t mean feeding too many cattails to your horse is not a good idea at all. Your horse may experience some gastrointestinal distress if too many cattails are consumed. 

Moreover, some horses may lose their appetite and have an upset stomach if they consume too many cattails. At the same time, these wild plants can also cause horses to choke. 

Clinical attention is necessary if your horse shows allergic reactions or other health complications. So, feeding only the required cattails to your horse is always important.

Iris vs cattails – identified the plant correctly for your livestock

Cattails and Iris – are 2 commonly found wetland plants in the U.S.A. 

Interestingly, both look the same, and people usually can’t distinguish them easily. 

The most dangerous thing is that the iris plant is toxic, and cattails are non-toxic. So, it is crucial to learn their differences to avoid dangerous health complications. Sometimes, the iris can be the reason for death. 

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The first thing that distinguishes them is the cigar-shaped head. Cattails have cigar-shaped heads, while the iris doesn’t.

Allergic reaction

Iris can create skin irritation when it gets exposed to the skin directly. But cattails are skin-friendly. It will not create any allergic reaction.


Another worth-mentioning difference between iris vs. cattails is their leaves. Cattails have dark green, sword-like leaves measuring ¼” – ½” wide. Meanwhile, most irises have fan-like and flat leaves, rising from a brown rhizome.


Although the roots of cattails and iris are called rhizomes, they have structural differences. 

Cattails have a long root coming from underwater, having a measurement of 1.5 – 2 ft. In comparison, the iris’s root is half buried in the soil and somewhat exposed. Moreover, their roots have a lumpy bulb-like structure.

So, after reading the above differences, you will never mistake choosing the right plant between the iris and cattails.

Related: Find out if sunflower seeds are safe for horses to consume. Discover offers nutritional advantages and is safe for your horse.

Can I replace part of their hay/grazing with the cattails?

Cattails are safe for horses. They contain a good amount of minerals and vitamins. At the same time, they offer several health benefits to horses. For this reason, you might think of replacing regular hay or grass with cattails.

Am I right?

The straightforward answer is you mustn’t do this.

Although cattails contain the necessary quantity of vitamins and minerals, the amount is not enough for horses. At the same time, alfalfa or other hay grass is the best option for horses to feed. 

So, I recommend not replacing part of their hay/grazing with the cattails.

However, you can feed this plant by mixing it with other regular hay or grass. In addition, if you have nothing to feed your horse, then cattails can be a good choice. Besides this, you should keep aside the idea of replacing regular hay with cattails.

Is it safe for horses to eat cattails

Related: Are you curious if horses can eat pine needles? Find out the answer here, plus learn more about the nutritional benefits.

So the bottom line is, Is it safe for horses to eat cattails? 

The answer is both yes and no. Most horses didn’t show any health complications after consuming cattails. While a few horses have experienced an upset stomach. 

I suggest you consult a veterinarian before feeding cattails to your horse. However, it is a good choice to feed your horse in times of drought or any harsh weather. So yes, Cattails are a good source of vitamins and minerals and can be mixed with other hay or grazing items.

Zunnun Ahmed

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