Coming out to the stables to get the daily chores done, or perhaps to spend some quality time with your equine friend, only to witness them eating their own poop might be a cause for alarm. You might be thinking—what on Earth am I meant to do about this?
You aren’t alone—horses eating their own poop is a problem many horse owners face. The reasons horses eat their own poop are numerous, ranging from nutrient deficits to boredom, and may indicate a deeper problem with your horse’s health.
The good news is that by reading this article and educating yourself, you’ll be able to eliminate possible contributing factors to determine the root cause of your horse’s behavior.
Why would a horse eat their poop?
To us as humans, the idea of eating poop is, let’s just say, not the most appetizing thought. But many animals, horses included, don’t have this same aversion.
This is partly because the make-up of horse excrement is different from that of a human being. Think about horse manure and its many uses in the garden.
We are able to use horse poop because it’s rich in vitamins and nutrients that help plants grow.
But while that makes the concept of a horse eating poop a little easier to stomach (so to speak), it still begs the question as to why a horse might find this to be a suitable snack.
To Aid in Digestion
Foals aren’t born with the bacteria they need to thrive. They have to get it once they’re outside of the womb.
A foal will eat its own poop and its mother’s because the poop is rich in bacteria and microbes that promote healthy digestion and boost their immune system.
This behavior should begin to wane around the second-month mark and is generally not anything to worry about.
Because They’re Bored
Horses are social animals that need companionship and entertainment. Without proper stimulation, a horse may resort to maladaptive behaviors to cope, including eating its own poop.
Bored horses will often “crib,” which is when they bite and chew on things that aren’t food, such as fences or doors.
If there is poop available to a bored horse, they may be stirred crazy enough to start chomping down on it.
If your horse is eating poop, keep an eye out for other signs that they may be experiencing boredom. Such signs include the aforementioned cribbing, pacing, kicking, banging their heads, and lethargy.
They Don’t Have Enough Space.
On average, horses in pastures spend over half of each day grazing, with periodic breaks of two or so hours in between each feeding.
However, a horse that is kept in a stall tends to be fed two to three times a day, severely cutting down the amount of time eating.
Even with regular feedings, stalled horses may still have the instinct to graze, and if no feed is available, they may resort to what they have access to—their own poop.
Note that slashing grazing time down to a few hours also gives more opportunity for boredom.
Adult horses who are eating their poop may be signaling to you that there is something wrong with their diet. Horses require a nutrient-rich diet to stay healthy.
Stalled horses might not be getting the right combination of nutrients in the feed they’re being given and might turn to their own poop to make up for the nutrient deficit.
Grazing horses have more access to variety, but if they too are eating their own poop, a poor diet shouldn’t be ruled out.
Horses that are on antibiotics may also start eating their own poop for the same reason foals do. The antibiotics might kill the good bacteria and the bad, and they are trying to replenish them.
Is it bad for horses to eat their own poop?
When it comes to foals, the act of eating poop shouldn’t raise any alarm bells. This behavior should start to wane on its own around the two-month mark.
If your horse’s foal continues to eat poop much longer than two months, you might want to consider the possibility of something wrong in their digestive system and have them evaluated by a vet.
Poop eating in adult horses is something you should pay more attention to.
While horse poop itself is generally not harmful, you’ll remember that it is actually fairly rich in vitamins and nutrients. The behavior may be a symptom of a larger problem.
If your horse is eating because they’re bored, then it’s likely they are doing other compulsive behaviors to alleviate the boredom.
Stress can also cause problems with a horse’s physical health, potentially leaving long-term damage.
If your horse is eating poop because of a problem with their diet, that too is important to address quickly. This is so that worse issues, such as ulcers or colic, don’t arise.
When your adult horse is eating poop, consider it to be their way of telling you that something is wrong. Listen to them!
We’ve already established that horse poop on its own isn’t harmful to your horse, but if you’re not careful, unsanitary conditions in your horse’s living environment can make it harmful.
Poop that is left in stalls to fester can collect parasites and unhealthy bacteria, not to mention flies and other pests that might lay eggs in it.
The longer it sits around, the more likely it becomes that your horse might eat something harmful on accident.
You can prevent this by making sure to muck your horse’s stall daily and make sure that their living conditions are safe and clean.
Your horses should always be in a sanitary home, but if you know they’re eating their own poop, this becomes especially important to avoid any serious illnesses.
What to do if my horse is eating its own poop?
Isolate the Cause
So, you’ve become a master of “whys,” but what are you supposed to do with the information now?
First and foremost, you want to isolate the cause of your horse’s behavior, as this will determine how you handle it.
Horses can’t use words, but they can communicate plenty through their actions, so pay close attention.
Are they showing signs of boredom? Have you changed up the type of feed they’re eating? How about any new medications?
Once you narrow down the potential reason your horse is eating their poop, you can then take action.
If your horse is eating their poop because they’re bored, then that means you need to provide them with stimulation to get them out of their funk.
If your horse is spending a lot of time alone, consider giving them more time to socialize with other horses or up the amount of time you spend with them.
Horses are herd animals and will get bored and lonely if left alone for too long.
You can also change up your horse’s routine or get them toys to play with. These things will engage their brains and give them back their energy.
Hopefully, this will lead to the cessation of bad behaviors, including poop eating.
Let Them Graze
If your horse spends most of its time in a stall, consider giving them more pasture time to graze.
Not only can this reduce boredom, but letting them graze on grass and hay can add variety to their diet that will provide essential vitamins and nutrients.
Talk to a Dietician
If you think your horse’s diet is the root of the problem, then you might want to speak with someone who specializes in horse health.
A dietician can look at the type of feed you’re providing, when you’re giving it to them, and what method you’re using and will be able to tell you where things can be improved.
It can be tricky to get the right balance of nutrients, especially for stalled horses, so don’t be shy about asking for help.
Call Your Veterinarian
When all else fails, call out the veterinarian.
In a lot of cases, poop eating isn’t a sign of anything so detrimental that you can’t fix it with a few lifestyle changes.
But if you’ve eliminated all the possibilities for why your horse is eating poop and still are stumped, then it’s time to talk to your vet.
Hopefully, your horse’s behavior isn’t anything too serious, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry, and a vet will help you figure out your next steps.
It’s not the most pleasant thing in the world, and you probably don’t like talking about it. But the fact of the matter is that poop eating happens, and when it does, it’s best to be prepared.
By educating yourself about the causes behind this unflattering behavior, you will be more equipped to keep your horse happy and healthy for a long time.