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Saliva: Your Horses Secret Weapon

Horse eating Feed

Unlike humans, horses do not produce saliva continuously and they will only produce saliva when they are physically chewing. In contrast, they produce stomach acid on a constant basis, and not just as a response to the presence of food.

Saliva therefore plays an important role throughout the horses digestive system. Firstly, it is crucial for the transportation of feedstuffs into the oesophagus as it acts as a lubricant, which helps to avoid issues such as choke. Saliva also contains sodium bicarbonate, which can act as a natural stomach buffer to neutralise the acidic environment in the stomach and help maintain an optimum pH throughout the digestive tract.

Horses will naturally spend up to 16 hours a day grazing and have a physical and physiological desire to chew. The constant production of saliva through chewing works as an excellent line of defense toward the continuous production of stomach acid. Squamous ulcers occur as a result of sustained exposure to the acid present in the stomach, and so ensuring a constant supply of forage will not only help to reduce this exposure, but also support a lower gastric pH too.

Type of feedstuff can influence the amount of time your horse spends chewing. Research has found that when offered 1kg of hay, a range of 3000-3500 chews were recorded, which produced approximately 4-5 litres of saliva. When 1kg of concentrate was offered, the number of chews was significantly reduced to 350-450 chews, producing 1-2 litres of saliva. The time spent eating the 1kg of hay was also 3 times the time taken to eat the concentrate offered.

How to increase chew time:

  1. Fibre should form the basis of any horses diet in order to support optimum digestive health and function. Ensure a supply of quality forage is provided at all times where possible, with this quantity not falling below 1.5% of your horse’s body weight for those on restricted rations.
  2. Feed little and often. It is recommended that a horse shouldn’t go for longer than 4 hours without access to forage as this can increase the risk of digestive issues. For those who require a restricted intake of forage, placing hay in small-holed hay nets or in numerous places around the stable or paddock can slow the rate of intake and prolong the time spent eating.
  3. Use a short-stem fibre or ‘chaff,’ if using a concentrate. Chaff takes longer to chew and will stimulate more saliva production than feeding a mix or cube alone. Feeding chaff slows the rate of passage of the feed through the digestive system, helping to ensure the horse can fully break down and utilise the feed in the correct areas of the gut.


If you would like any further information, please feel free to contact our nutritional team on 01622 718487 or email