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 an one of the United States equine Selenium experts.
View all posts by Dr. Kelsey J. Nonella Ph.D., P.A.S.

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

  1. 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:

      Esther,

      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.

  2. 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:

      Randy,
      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.

  3. 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.

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