Hi everyone! Primrose here with my latest blog update! With food still on my mind this time I am taking a look at the unusual eating habits we horses sometimes undertake offering you horse owners some inside knowledge on what exactly their four-legged friends are up to!
So, we expect horses to consume grasses, hay, and in some cases concentrate feed but sometimes our equines surprise us by eating unusual things such as dirt and manure.
The term “pica” refers to horses persistently eating non-nutritive substances.
Many mammals are known to do this with the habit being more common in younger animals of all species. In some cases specific nutritional deficiencies might trigger these unusual cravings but the behaviour is not considered to be a stable vice it represents a normal physiological, foraging response.
The term Coprophagy, describes equines consuming manure. Foals typically eat their mothers’ manure and occasionally consume their own.
Vets speculate that the coprophagy in foals is a mechanism for populating the digestive system with bacteria and protozoa necessary for a fully functioning cecum. The microbes are required for effective fibre digestion which are necessary for a foal to fully utilize a grass or hay diet as they grow and consume more forage and less mare’s milk.
Mature horses eating protein-deficient diets will also sometimes display manure eating behaviour. In these cases coprophagy typically ceases when adequate protein in the diet is provided. Tragically horses suffering starvation or those without adequate forage provided have also been observed to eat manure.
The term Geophagia refers to eating dirt or soil and describes the occurrence of the horse actively biting the ground with the intent of eating dirt. Researchers have proposed that horses eat dirt in search of salt or minerals such as phosphorus, but domestic horses with diets containing plenty of salt and mineral have also been observed in some instances consuming dirt!
Geophagia can actually be dangerous, as consuming sandy soil could lead to colic or diarrhoea particularly if the horse is not sufficiently hydrated.
If horse owners observe their horses exhibiting unusual eating behaviours such as coprophagy or geophagia, they should evaluate that animal’s diet for nutritional balance, forage availability, and the general environment for potential causes of the behaviour.
Once the diet has been assessed a veterinary exam can detect parasite infestation or other health issues should be undertaken. If the diet is adequate, the horse is healthy, and other factors are not at play, then the behaviour might be a simple case of boredom.
Decreasing time spent in confinement, providing a companion, or increasing exercise might help alleviate the problem.
Primrose’s Top Tips for what to consider if your horse is displaying unusual eating habits!
Does the horse have adequate long stem fibre available? If the horse does not feel full or is bored, they will find something to chew on and consume such as the fences and surrounding trees to satiate their innate need to chew.
Does the horse have an adequate mineral intake? While the horse might not have specific mineral wisdom, when a horse is consuming abnormal things it could be a good time to review macro- and micro mineral intake to ensure their diet is balanced and they are receiving adequate amounts of these important micronutrients.
Do they have adequate salt available free choice? Horses that do not have salt available will chew on a variety of objects.
I hope you have all enjoyed my blog, see you next time! Happy riding 🙂