What Do Reindeer Eat? Let’s Explore Their Eating Behavior

Reindeer are herbivores. They mainly eat only plants. Usually, they feast on different plants, including ferns, leaves, shoots, moss, fungi, grasses, etc. Of course, they are very much fond of carrots (if they find one).

Reindeer’s eating habits are quite interesting, considering how they shift from omnivores to carnivores when necessary. Besides, they also have different eating habits in the wild and captivity. Sounds interesting? Keep scrolling to find more interesting facts about reindeer’s diet.

Are Reindeer Carnivorous or Omnivorous?

Reindeer are not carnivorous or omnivorous but are herbivorous and live on a plant-based diet.

Herbivorous indicates the dependence of animals on plants for food, and carnivores are those animals who feed on other animals for survival.

However, omnivorous is the combination of both herbivorous and carnivorous. That means omnivorous animals can eat both animals and plants.

Reindeer, most of the time, eat plants as their food. But occasionally, they also eat small rodents, fish, and eggs when their food is scarce. That’s why they are sometimes called “omnivorous ruminants.”

What Do Reindeer Eat? The Complete Food List

A wide range of plant foods is on the diet list of reindeer as they are termed a committed vegetarian. They only eat the nutritious part of those plants. Their food list includes:

  • Herbs
  • Ferns
  • Mosses
  • Lichen
  • Spring grasses
  • Different types of fungi
  • Mushrooms
  • Shrubs leaves
  • Bark and leaves from the tree
  • Berries
  • Sage

Generally, they become picky eaters during the summer as there are vast options for food. But the food quantity becomes less in the winter season. That’s why reindeer eat whatever they find in this season.

However, domesticated reindeer get some supplementary food or treats along with their natural diet. But these should not be the main source of their nutrients; these are just occasional treats, which include:

  • Oats and grains
  • Fruits such as bananas and apple
  • Hays
  • Leafy green vegetables
  • Vegetables like carrot

What Is the Favorite Food Of Reindeer?

Though reindeer are omnivores, they love to eat herb-like food the most. Only when food is scarce, do they choose to eat rodents as food.


Red apples and carrots are considered the favorite treat food for reindeer. In some places, people also believe that reindeer love to eat barley and magic reindeer food.

How Much Do Reindeer Eat?

Amount of their food ingested changes with the season. When there is less food during winter, their food consumption also reduces.

Generally, a reindeer can eat approximately 20 pounds of food per day. But the average food consumption is less than that as enough foods are unavailable everywhere.

When there is plentiful food, the average value becomes 15 pounds per day, which declines to 5 pounds per day when winter arrives.

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Note: According to research, an adult reindeer can eat 9 -18 pounds of vegetation daily (Source)!

How Often Do Reindeer Eat?

Wild Reindeer can eat whenever they want. It depends on how many times they want to feed to reach an average of 15 pounds daily.

But, in the case of domesticated reindeer, the scene is slightly different. As they can’t access the food whenever they want, they need to feed at least twice daily.

How Much Food Does a Baby Reindeer Eat?

Baby reindeer also have the same diet chart as any adult reindeer. They start to eat solid food one week after their birth. But for the first week, they only eat their mother’s milk.

A baby reindeer drinks milk almost 10% to 20% of its body weight. Along with this, they eat solid food for six months.

Do Reindeer Have Teeth? How Do They Eat Food?

Yes. Reindeer have 34 teeth which is more than humans. But their teeth aren’t as sharp as humans. Their teeth are flat and stiff, which is suitable for grinding and chewing.

Instead of upper front teeth, they have fleshy dental pads. They use the incisor of their bottom jaw and the dental plate to bite and tear up their food.

Then they use their premolar and molar teeth to chew and grind. This chewed food goes down to their stomach for the further digestive process.

What Do Reindeer Eat in The Winter?

During winter, lichen is the main food of reindeer. A variant of lichen is affectionately named after the reindeer, which is “reindeer lichen.”

In the winter, snow covers all the plants, including lichen surrounding their habitats. But snows are soft enough to let reindeer smash into 2 inches with their antlers.

Mainly, reindeer use their excellent smelling sense to locate their food under the ice. Then they dig into the snow to eat the food.

What Shrubs Do Reindeer Eat in The Winter?

In winter, reindeer eat shrubs like mosses. Mosses don’t die during the winter and are also available throughout the year. But reindeer eat more moss in winter than in other seasons.

This is because moss contains a particular type of chemical, which boosts blood flow and generates heat in the body. It helps to prevent their body from freezing in extremely cold weather.

What Do Reindeer Eat in The Summer?

During summer, reindeer rely on grass, shrubs, shoots, ferns, and herbs. As a variety of food is available during summer, they have a wide range of diet lists.

Reindeer are also found to eat willow and birch leaves, reed, and grasses. Sometimes, they also enjoy eating summer fruits and berries. But these are not their main meals.

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What Do Reindeer Eat in The Tundra?

In the tundra, reindeer primarily feed on the mosses. A few types of shrubs and grasses are also on their diet list.

Tundra is located between the polar ice caps and timberline. Thus, the weather remains frozen and too cold for plants.

Only a few types of shrubs, grasses, lichen, and mosses can survive in that weather. During winter, the option becomes less as only a few types of lichen and fungi are available.

What Do Reindeer Eat in The Arctic?

Ruminant reindeer eat different types of plants and herbs in the Arctic region during summer. But, in winter, they have to depend solely on lichen.

During summer, reindeer eat ferns, grasses, shoots, herbs, and a few plants like willow and birch. But these food sources will start to die in the upcoming winter, and then the only source of their food is lichen.

What Do Reindeer Eat at The North Pole?

The number of reindeer at the north pole is inferior. During summer, they can find some grasses and mushrooms there. But, in winter, they mainly live on eating snow-covered lichen there.

reindeer in north pole

Due to climate change, the ice of the north pole is melting, causing a reduction in the reindeer population there.

Also, a lot of rain during winter makes the ice too hard for them to break through their antlers. Thus, reindeer of the north pole mostly die of starvation without food.

What Do Reindeer Eat in The Taiga?

The world’s southernmost indigenous species of reindeer are found in the taiga. Due to the specialized geographical and nutritional requirements, naturally, those reindeer can’t live outside the taiga.

There are dozens of varieties of lichen, grasses, sedges, and willow available, providing essential nutrients for reindeer. Moreover, reindeer can eat a vast range of mushrooms, pine nuts, berries, and medicinal plants in the taiga.

What Do Reindeer Eat in Captivity?

The diet of reindeer in captivity is slightly different from those in the wild. They mostly get straw and soft hay as their basic foods.

The diet list of a reindeer in captivity is as follows:

  • Unlimited straw
  • Limited soft hay
  • A daily supplement of 0.5-0.7 reindeer pellet per 100 grams of reindeer’s body weight.
  • Plenty amount of water

Do Reindeer Eat Oats?

Yes. Reindeer eat oats as they find it tastes sweet. They love younger oats more than mature ones.

Oats are an excellent source of protein and carbohydrates. The reindeer’s digestive system is quite strong, so they can easily digest raw oats. Thus, oats are a vital source of their food during the winter.

Do Reindeer Eat Carrots?

Yes. Reindeer eat carrots as they find them delicious. This is one of the most popular treats for reindeer, but they love to eat green vegetables more.

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However, eating too many carrots is not good for their health. First of all, carrots can’t serve all the nutrients as the main meal.

Thus, it’s not a part of their natural diet and only serves to treat reindeer. Secondly, as reindeer don’t have much sharpness in their teeth, they find difficulty in tearing up the whole carrot.

Do Reindeer Eat Meat?

Yes. Reindeer can eat meat, but this is not a part of their regular diet. Though they are mainly herbivores, they are also optimistic carnivores.

When plant food is scarce, and they are not getting their essential nutrients from food, they shift to animal food sources.

Eating meat is one of these circumstances. They tend to eat meat to fill up their lack of nutrients like salt, calcium, and phosphorus.

Do Reindeer Eat Lichen?

Yes. Reindeer eat lichen. Usually, most of their dietary plants die in winter. As a result, lichen covers almost 90% of their diet and serves them essential nutrients in this time.

This lichen is a combination of algae and fungi in which it lives in a symbiotic relationship. Most interestingly, Reindeer are the only mammal that can digest lichen because of their four-chambered stomach.

The rumen portion of their stomach consists of some specialized bacteria named “mutualistic bacteria,” which assist in digesting the lichen.

What Is Santa’s Reindeer’s Favorite Food?

Some treats like red apples, berries, barley, and carrots are Santa’s reindeer’s favorite food. Apart from this, Santa Clause provides his reindeer with regular food of Reindeer.

To keep his reindeer healthy for the long journey of distributing gifts, Santa feeds his reindeer various types of vegetables. Different types of leaves and sunflower seeds are also included in this list. He also supplies them with plenty of water to keep them hydrated.

What Reindeers Cannot Eat?

Reindeer can’t eat those foods which are not part of their natural diet list. They might eat some of them, but this may harm their health.

Some popular treats for reindeer are carrots, candies, glitter, sequins, cookies, etc. None of these are part of their diet, so eating any of those negatively impacts their digestive system.

Besides, as they don’t have incisor teeth on their upper jaw, they also have difficulty eating hard foods.


Though reindeer belong to the deer family, they are somewhat different from other family members.

Besides, as they live in different geographical regions, their food habits also changed with the change in climate and environment.

Reindeer in captivity may be served a balanced diet, but the scene is different for the wild reindeer.

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