Why Would a Horse Eat His Own Manure?

Have you ever seen your horse eating manure and worry why?

Surely they would not naturally have such a disgusting habit. Well, there are many different reasons for why a horse may consume his own manure. Why Would a Horse Eat His Own Manure

Coprophagia is the scientific name for eating manure. It is of the Greek origin, from the words “kopros” for feces and “phagein” for eating.  Coprophagia can occur because a horse is trying to raise the microbial population in their hindgut. Feeding prebiotics and probiotics will aid the horse in maintaining a healthy gut flora, ensuring they will have optimal digestion for their feedstuffs.

Horses on antibiotics are even at a greater risk of having a poor microbial population in their gastrointestinal tract. Antibiotics kill both the good and bad bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract. Eating manure can help a horse replenish the beneficial bacteria that it needs for proper digestion. For this reason, prebiotics and probiotics are not only benefit for a healthy horse, but CRUCIAL for a horse that is receiving antibiotics.

probioticsWith that said, the most common reasons a horse will eat manure is from a lack of/or an inappropriate feed program, stress, or just plain boredom. A horse’s digestive tract is designed to consume fiber continuously throughout the day. For that reason, a horse should be allowed to graze and/or have access to forage all day long. Horses, like people, have different metabolisms. As you know, some horses will most certainly be overweight when allowed forage all day long. In this case, you need to consider the type and quality of forage that you are feeding him. Don’t feed alfalfa or top quality grass hay if the horse is an “easy-keeper”. If possible, you could feed small, frequent feedings instead of two large meals. A horse lacking roughage and the ability to chew on something throughout the day will go in search of fiber to chew on, whether it is wood, other horses’ manes or tails, shavings, or manure.

Manure also contains some nutrients that weren’t digested when traveling the gastrointestinal tract. If a horse’s diet is not meeting their nutritional needs (especially minerals and vitamins) they may resort to eating manure (coprophagia).  Make sure that you are feeding any supplement or feed as labeled by the manufacturer’s recommendations.  Free choice salt should always be available, as well.

Stressed horses may also start eating manure.  Horses are routine animals; they like to be fed at the same time every day. They feel safe in the same stall, with the same companions, with the same training schedule.  A horse being moved from pen to pen, fed at 7 a.m. on one day and 10 a.m. the next day never get a chance to develop a routine.  In order to comfort themselves in a new environment or an uncertain routine he may develop this habit to cope.

horse-stallBoredom equals bad habits, most likely resulting in coprophagia.  A single horse with no stimulation or companionship is potentially bored.  To help combat coprophagia, hang a hay net outside in their run or the alleyway. This will allow your horse to watch the “going-ons” and munch while he does. Like dinner and movie for your horse.

Horses are habit creatures. Therefore it is important to note, that if your horse continues to eat manure after making these changes it has already become a habit.  Habits developed can be hard to break.  Frequent cleaning of stalls and paddocks is very important, along with a good deworming schedule.

Horses begin eating manure for a reason, whether that is stress, boredom, nervousness or, an imbalance in their feed and vitamins and minerals. Toys, companions, slow feeders, prebiotics and probiotics are good places to start. Check and make sure your supplements have right quantities of prebiotics and probiotics; this is an easy way to cover your bases and are always beneficial. Good luck and enjoy these upcoming summer months.


About Dr. Kelsey J. Nonella Ph.D., P.A.S.

Kelsey J. Nonella, Ph.D. is an equine nutritionist who was riding horses before she could walk. Her love for horses drives her to help educate people on what their horses’ needs in order to have happy, healthy horses. Kelsey went to Cal Poly receiving a Bachelor’s of Science in Animal Science and then onto West Texas A&M, where she got her Masters and eventually her Doctorates in Equine Science. At A&M, Dr. Nonella did extensive research on Selenium within horses. Click here to view her research. Kelsey’s colleagues have mentioned her as one of the United States equine Selenium experts.
View all posts by Dr. Kelsey J. Nonella Ph.D., P.A.S.

18 Responses to “Why Would a Horse Eat His Own Manure?”

  1. Jamie says:

    My 16 year old horse just started eating poop the last couple of years. She never used to do that until I moved her away from a pasture that she was turned out in everyday from the months of April until October, and then even during the other months there was no eating of poop. Just recently we are testing her for cushings but now my other horse is also eating poop who is a lot younger. I know it could be from boredom and not being turned out like they were in the past but I feed them 2x a day with grain and hay. Not sure what supplements are out there that you recommend that would have the appropriate balance of nutrients and minerals that would decrease this habit?

    • mm Dr. Kelsey J. Nonella Ph.D., P.A.S. says:

      I hear the struggle of this gross habit. I would recommend getting slow feed bags and allow them to nibble on hay continuously throughout the day. Also, put Jolly Balls for them to play with. This can help curb the boredom and the oral fixation that causes horses to eat their own manure.

  2. Siena Blastos says:

    My gelding has never eaten his poop, all of the sudden he started doing so, he gets fed 3 times a day and I don’t think her gets bored but I don’t know. What should I do to prevent him from doing so?

    • mm Dr. Kelsey J. Nonella Ph.D., P.A.S. says:


      Thank you for the question. I would recommend putting a Jolly Ball or milk jug with rocks, and as much turn out as possible. I would also recommend a white salt block or a loose salt. I hope this helps. Let me know if I can answer anymore questions.

  3. Sheri Bentley says:

    My ten-year-old pinto that I have had for two years now, came to me with this poop eating habit. She is also a beaver, she chews up fence posts and the boards in her lean to and stall. I bought a two-year-old three months ago and my fears came true. The pinto has exhibited this behavior and the young one is doing both of them now. Any suggestions will be much appreciated.

    • mm Dr. Kelsey J. Nonella Ph.D., P.A.S. says:


      Thank you for the question. They can definitely be learned behaviors from taught from an older horse, like in your situation. If possible if you can separate them and give as much turn off time as possible. Especially your 2 year old might benefit from a jolly ball or milk jug with rocks in it, as they tend to be the most playful. Good luck!

  4. John Murray says:

    Hi Dr. Johnson,
    For the first time ever my TB ex racer ate his fresh poo, he has also been a bit stressed when I hack out lately or since I moved yards a year ago. I thought he would settle but no sign of that I give him Alfa A original but id not say he is a good dooer, why do you not recommend alfalfa?

    • mm Dr. Kelsey J. Nonella Ph.D., P.A.S. says:

      Thank you for the question. My reasoning for not recommending alfalfa if they are an easy keeper is because it is more energy dense, so most people typically feed them a smaller amount to keep their “easy keeper” from gaining weight. Therefore, the horse eats it faster and has more time with nothing to munch on, other than their manure. However, if the horse is on the harder keeping side, alfalfa is a great feedstuff and if fed more can actually help them reach to a more ideal body condition. The calcium levels in alfalfa hay also acts like “TUMS” in the stomach helping stressed horses that are prone to ulcers. I personally have a horse that gets free-choice alfalfa, and this helps to maintain the best body condition for her. Let me know if I can answer anymore questions.

  5. Joseph Richard says:

    Hey Doc Interesting articles and replys.

    We have a well bred gelding 4 yrs old out of Bodemeister that we just bought and casterated him. He is in training and eating his manure. I agree probably out of boredom. Any suggestions?

  6. How do I stop my horseracing his own fececes I thought he may be lacking something

    • mm Dr. Kelsey J. Nonella Ph.D., P.A.S. says:


      Typically it is a habit created out of boredom, and isn’t related to a deficiency of any kind. You can try putting something in his pen to play with to try and help distract him from his feces.

  7. Esther says:

    My question is, is this a real health problem, or just gross to us humans? My mare is 29 years old and her teeth are worn to the point that she can’t eat hay, or really graze, so I feed her soaked alfalfa pellets and equine senior feed (sparingly, as she’s an easy keeper). I’ve had her since she was a foal, the manure eating has only started in the last 3-4 months, she’s been on the pellets for almost 2 years. I think it’s out of boredom, other than her teeth, she’s in excellent health and you’d never know she was 29 🙂 So, yeah, I guess it’s gross, but should I really be worried about it? I mean, it does keep her busy….lol

    • mm Dr. Kelsey J. Nonella Ph.D., P.A.S. says:


      Great question! It really is just gross to humans. It doesn’t cause health problems. Like you said, it is typically out of boredom that horses eat their own manure. As long as you have your 29 year old on a good deworming program there is no problem.

  8. Randy Verschueren says:

    We have a horse in a pen with 2geldings she is 22 and has cushings disease we are feeding 1st and 2nd cutting hay and giving her senior pellets a mineral block she lost a lot of weight and we just had her teeth floated three weeks ago and we seperate her at pellet time and she still comes out and eats horse poo what else can I do

    • mm Dr. Kelsey J. Nonella Ph.D., P.A.S. says:

      I know how frustrating this can be. My recommendation would be offer her free-choice hay in order for her to have sometime to chew consistently, and keep the pens picked to the best of your ability. Also, because she has a compromised immune system from Cushings disease it is very important that she is receiving a vitamin-mineral supplement with 3 mg of organic selenium. Like I stated in the article, eating manure becomes habitual for some horses and even if you have changed everything to be optimal in her diet and environment she may still consume manure. Sorry there is no steadfast cure.

      Thank you for your question.

  9. Fran says:

    I agree with your article. This happened with my gelding, Snort, this spring. He has never consumed his own poop before and it occurred the first few days after introducing limited times in pasture this February. I use Horse Guard supplements and feed him 3meals a day of grass hay. I felt that he was loving the smell of his own poop after getting out into the field. The behavior stopped after a few days. Thanks for the article.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.