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I have just found my horse eating his own manure. What does this mean and why is he doing it?.

-- F. G.


Eating manure -- "coprophagia" is what the vet may call it -- is normal, even desirable, in foals during the first four or five months of life. It jump-starts the bacteria they need to digest solid food and may also serve to boost their immune system.

In older horses, however, it often indicates a nutritional deficiency of some kind. The first thing I'd look at is the availability of a mineral block -- especially if the horse is also eating dirt or wood. Next, I'd ask about the energy content of the feed -- sometimes a horse will pick through manure because it usually contains a lot of undigested grain. Finally, I'd want to know if the horse has adequate pasture or hay available at all times and if the horse can move around enough. A horse is a grazing animal, and if normal roughage isn't available it will often start eating anything it finds. Boredom can also prompt a horse to "graze" manure just because it's better than standing around with nothing to do. In the latter case a horse ball is sometimes enough of a diversion to stop the behavior. Try to identify -- and stop -- whatever is causing the behavior, because it can be a hard habit to break once it gets established.

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