Feeding Clay to Horses and other Animals

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clay-french-green-dryIt is common to see animals eat dirt or lick it. Some will rather drink from a mud hole than from a bucket with clean tap water. Clay is basically dirt with amazing therapeutic properties. So why would it be so strange to give clay to animals?

Bentonite clay, not only has many minerals and nutrients but is also recognised to have therapeutic properties that are still not entirely explained by the scientific world. French green clay falls under this type of clay. One main property is that it has a high adsorption rate.

Bentonite is used in many scientific experiments for that reason. In 1999, a Czech study showed that bentonite added to pig slurry removed 98.9% of psychrophilic microorganisms and 100% of mesophilic microorganisms. Bentonite is also used in snake antivenom preparations.

Feeding clay to horses or dogs is not so strange once we understand what clay can do and accept that animals happily eat it themselves if they can and feel the need to.

General usage

In 1990, a study done on sheep in Australia showed that giving between 15 to 60 g of bentonite clay a day increased wool growth by up to 25%. The study concluded that bentonite clay allows a greater flow of protein from the rumen to the intestines, promoting wool growth.

Feeding clay to animals with bad hooves or feet as well as topical applications in the form of clay poultices have also shown improvements in their condition.

In 1996, Hannon revealed in his thesis that clay fed to dogs as an additive to kibbles and mince demonstrated improvement in digestion, better stool formation and reduced faecal odours.

There have been quite a few studies on using bentonite to treat and prevent diarrhoea in calves. In one, 96% of the sick calves recovered and only 4 calves out of 240 did not get diarrhoea when bentonite was given as a preventative. In comparison, 127 calves out of 240 got diarrhoea in the control group.

Bentonite given to ruminants has shown significant improvement in digestion. Smectite clay is used to treat and prevent colitis in horses.

Plant poisoning and other ingestion of toxic matters can also be treated with clay as demonstrated by MacKenzie in cases of lantana poisoning in cattle in Queensland. Many studies have been conducted for humans in regard to poisoning by heavy metals, mushrooms, potatoes, herbicides, insecticides, mercury and all sorts of bacterial intoxications, with satisfying results in the use of clay as a treatment.


Some of the studies mentioned above-used clay in feed or as a slurry. Although it is, in most cases, certainly the most efficient way of using clay, it is recommended to only use the clay water, also called clay milk.

To prepare clay water:

In a cup, add the recommended amount of clay, fill the cup with water – preferably source, rain or bore water as tap water has too many chemicals, stir and let it sit for 24 hours. When ready, pour the clay water, not the clay deposited at the bottom, into the animal feed.

When preparing clay water in a cup, the recommended dose (Philippe Adrianne) would be:

  • small animals (cats and dogs): ¼ to ½ a teaspoon/day
  • medium animals (small cattle, sheep, goats, pigs etc): ½ to 1 teaspoon/day
  • large animals (horses, large cattle): 1 to 5 (up to 10) teaspoons/day

A course of clay as described above should be for 3 weeks on, and one week off. Re-assess. Repeat if necessary but no more than 3 times.

You should never use metallic utensils with clay as it negates its actions.

An easy way (and probably the best) to offer clay ad-lib to animals is to pour it in one trough or bucket at a rate of 1 kg of clay per 100 litres or 1%.
If using an automatic trough, the clay can be changed once a year since the water gets renewed as the animals drink from it.
If using a bucket where the water is stagnant, you will need to change the clay approximately once a week based on the temperature/weather. The hotter it gets, the more often the clay and water will need to be renewed as the water becomes stale.

It is advisable to provide another water supply with no clay in it so animals have the choice. You will discover that they will only drink when they feel they need the benefits of the clay.

This method is particularly suited for animals on grass (horses, cattle, goats etc) and also if their paddock contains plants that might be dangerous.

When not to use clay

Clay should never be given orally in the following cases:

  • Constipation, impaction
  • Hernias
  • Consumption of oil for 15 days prior to starting clay
  • High fat diets
  • During pregnancy and breast feeding
  • Hypertension
  • During a course of medication

Always seek advice from a veterinarian when an animal is ill.


PD Fenn and RA Leng “The effect of bentonite supplementation on ruminal protozoa density and wool growth in sheep either fed roughage based diets or grazing” Australian Journal of Agricultural Research 41(1) 167 – 174, 1990

R A Leng Emeritus Professor “Production Research Priorities- Endophyte Ill-thrift” University of New England, Armidale, NSW

Wanting Ling, Qing Shen, Yanzheng Gao, Xiaohong Gu and Zhipeng YangUse of bentonite to control the release of copper from contaminated soils” Australian Journal of Soil Research, 45(8) 618-623, 2007

Hannon, Robert Logan “An Evaluation of bentonite feed additives in horses and dogs and a reflection on the research process” University of Western Sydney, 1996

“Role of Bentonite in Prevention of T-2 Toxicosis in Rats” J. Anim Sci., 1983. 57:1498-1506.

T. C. Schell, M. D. Lindemann, E. T. Kornegay and D. J. Blodgett “Effects of feeding aflatoxin-contaminated diets with and without clay to weanling and growing pigs on performance, liver function, and mineral metabolism” Journal of Animal Science, Vol 71, Issue 5 1209-1218, 1993

“Production of highly potent horse antivenom against the Thai cobra (Naja kaouthia)” Department of Microbiology, Faculty of Science, Mahidol University, Bangkok, Thailand, 1997

J Bartos, J Habrda “Bentonite in the prevention and treatment of diarrhoea in newborn calves” Veterinarni-Medicina, 1974

“Preventing and treating colitis with DTO-smectite”, Journal of Equine Veterinary, July 2000

R A MacKenzie “Bentonite as therapy for lantana camara poisoning of cattle” Australian Veterinary Journal, 1991

Philippe Adrianne “L’argile, medecine ancestrale” Douce Alternative editions Amyris, 2003

9 thoughts on “Feeding Clay to Horses and other Animals”

  1. This article mentions not to give clay to animals who have received supplemental oil within the last 15 days, or are on a high-fat diet, but doesn’t give the reason for that. Can you please explain? Thanks!

    1. Hi Carrie, thank you for your question.
      If the clay is mixed with oil in the stomach, it could dry up and form dried balls, which could cause constipation over a period of time, hence colics in horses.
      If the horse only drinks the clay water and doesn’t ingest the clay, then it’s not an issue.
      I hope this helps.

  2. Christopher

    Great post on clay , I am from Barbados and working with clays and see the animal benefits is really great keep the good work going. Thanks for posting.

  3. Sharon Furlong

    Where is best to purchase bentonite? Guessing produce store version isn’t what you should feed horses ?

  4. fed horses first time loved it liked it off the ground , some were satisated ,others not . The clay had been purchased for a dam lining , and on walkink through thr paddock had been approched by horses , very interested to eat !

  5. on first offering horses loved it , eating droppings off the ground, soon had enough, will try again.

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