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Unusual Appetite: Your Horse Eats What?By Kentucky Equine Research Staff · February 26, 2016

If you can lead a horse to water but can’t make him drink, then why, oh why, is he more than willing to eat cookies, cake, hamburgers, hot dogs, and even nonfoods like entire lead ropes, empty dewormer syringes, and…hoof picks?

“Horses consume a wide array of odd food and nonfoods for various reasons, namely curiosity and boredom but occasionally dietary deficiencies,” suggested Kathleen Crandell, Ph.D., an equine nutritionist with Kentucky Equine Research (KER).

Some of the top oddities horses consume include the following:

Wood. Technically referred to as lignophagia, some horses actually eat fences, stall boards, and even trees, presumably to fulfill their need for fiber. Fiber is present in pasture, but some horses maintained on pasture alone need additional fiber in their diets and may benefit from offering them hay as well. Lignophagia might also be due to boredom and should be distinguished from cribbing.

Feces. Also called coprophagy, horses sometimes ingest feces. This practice is more common in foals but is occasionally observed in adults. For foals, this is normal behavior and helps them cultivate a healthy microbial population in the hindgut, the totality of which is called the intestinal biome. Again, a dietary deficiency of either fiber or minerals is suspected to contribute to coprophagia when observed as habitual behavior in mature horses, warranting a consultation with an equine nutritionist.

Bedding. Straw, shavings, sawdust, and even pelleted bedding seem to be delicacies to some horses. Easy keepers and hungry horses, such as those engaged in a weight-loss program, are frequent culprits. Although most types of bedding marketed for horses are free of black walnut remnants, which are harmful to horses, colic due to impactions could be a risk following ingestion of other bedding materials.

Dirt, soil, or clay. The act of consuming earthen morsels is referred to as geophagia. Mineral deficiencies, particularly salt, are thought to contribute to this behavior in horses, again emphasizing the importance of ensuring your horse’s diet is properly balanced. Diet analysis could be helpful in many cases. Concerns with this behavior include ingestion of internal parasite larvae and colic. If your horse frequently partakes in geophagia, other management tactics might be implemented, such as psyllium supplementation or a grazing muzzle.

“Bear in mind that some of these behaviors are also stereotypies and could warrant management changes to optimize the horse’s welfare,” advised Crandell.

Does your horse’s penchant to devour unusual things have you concerned? Have your horse’s diet evaluated to be sure he is receiving adequate nutrition. Get started now!