Coprophagy (Manure-Eating)

By: Dr. Lydia Gray

Horse fecal balls or manure in a pasture.

What is it?

Eating manure can be a normal activity of foals, beginning at about one week of age and tapering off when they are approximately two months old. Most experts believe that foals eat manure to populate their GI tract with beneficial bacteria or "good bugs" to help with digestion, although another theory suggests foals eat manure to take in parasite eggs and stimulate their immune system. Still others propose that by eating the feces of others, foals learn feed preferences. Adult horses, on the other hand, may eat manure because they lack nutrients or the chewing time associated with high-fiber diets.

What can be done about it?

Since horses may eat manure because they need more long-stem roughage, owners can try to prevent the behavior by either keeping grass hay in front of their horses at all times or allowing them to graze on pasture. Diets should be carefully reviewed to make sure the recommended daily requirements of vitamins, minerals, protein and other nutrients are being supplied. If not, fortified grain or a multi-vitamin/mineral supplement should be added to meet these needs.

What else do I need to know?

If a horse is overweight or for any reason should not have full access to grass or hay, a muzzle or "slow feeder" can be used to limit the amount of forage the horse can take in while still keeping them busy with a chewing activity. Horses that show any other behavioral or physical signs--such as colic, weight loss or performance issues--should be examined by a veterinarian to determine if a medical condition may be present.

SmartPak strongly encourages you to consult your veterinarian regarding specific questions about your horse's health. This information is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease, and is purely educational.