Horse Eating Droppings


Hi, I recently noticed my horse eating his droppings in his stall, this is the fist time I've seen him do it so I dont know how often it occurs, is he lacking something in his diet? He is fed three meals a day (Vuma Red 12%), goes out to graze in the mornings and always has a constant supply of hay in his stall, is his diet lacking something, is he just bored? he is exercised 4-6 times a week.


Coprophagia is the consumption of feaces, from the Greek copros (feces) and phagein (eat). Many animal species practice coprophagia; other species do not normally consume feces but may do so under unusual conditions.
There are a number of theories and ideas surrounding this behaviour, depending on the situation.
Firstly, a starved animal will eat its own faeces because there is simply nothing else to eat. The problem with this is that it can become a habit - in other words, once the horse is removed from his environment into better care, he may still keep eating his faeces because it has become so ingrained into his behaviour. Obviously your horse is not starving, which leads us to the next possibility.
Young animals of many species will eat the feaces of their mothers in an attempt to provide their digestive systems with the microflora that they require for digestion. Young elephants and hippos commonly do this. What your horse may be trying to tell you is that he has a lack of microflora and is seeking to replace them. I would suggest that you consider supplementing with a probiotic for a few weeks to see if this improves the situation.
Apes have been known to eat horse feaces because of its higher salt content. This may be another reason why your horse is eating his droppings. All working horses should have access to a salt lick. Horse sweat is high in sodium and a horse cannot store salt in his system to be used later. He needs a daily intake of sodium to maintain an healthy balance in his system. If your horse does not already have a salt lick in his stable, I would definitley add one. Electrolytes are not needed unless your horse is sweating profusely and in danger of dehydration, and an excess of it may cause harm to your horse - free access to a lick means your horse can regulate his own intake.
A lack of fibre in the diet is another reason that has been speculated as to why a horse would eat its droppings. Your horse seems to be taking in a good amount of fibre. In the case of low fibre issues, I believe a horse is much more likely to start chewing wood or eating his bedding as a result of not getting enough fibre in his diet. Make sure that he is getting enough good quality hay and if you are worried about fibre, you can supplement with extra sources of fibre (Please not bran! It is not a good source of fibre at all!) This is unlikely to be the cause of your horse's problem.
Another reason why horses are said to eat their droppings is because of a mineral or vitamin imbalance. Horses will eat all sorts of things if they have an imbalance - a common imbalance manifests itself as the eating of sand. This can cause a serious colic in horses. I had a horse at my yard that, when she arrived, would eat large mouthfuls of sand. We had very successful treatment by a homoepath, who put her on a course of tablets, including silica, which is a form of sand of course! She recovered completely in a matter of weeks. I would advise you to make sure that in addition to a salt lick, your horse also has access to a mineral and vitamin lick, or that you supplement with a good broad spectrum multi vitamin. Consulting a homeopath might be something you could consider.
Boredom has been blamed for horses eating their own droppings. If you feel your horse is spending too much time in his stable you could turn him out a bit longer, alternatively, find things to keep him busy with, such as food toys. I would rule out the other causes first, as I have yet to see a bored horse eating his poo! Bored horses get up to other mischief!
Once you have ruled out all of these possible contributing factors, you may sadly find that your horse is still eating his droppings and that it has become a learned behaviour! In that case I would urge you to make sure that his droppings are removed from the stable as often as possible and that you keep the pastures free of droppings of other horses that he may eat - this is a risk factor for picking up worms.
Let us know how it goes! Once you start supplementing, allow a good two weeks or more for the behaviour to stop - it will not happen overnight.

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