Eating of Non-food Items in Horses

Coprophagy in Horses

Coprophagy, by definition, is simply the act of eating dung, or feces. Usually seen in young foals, coprophagy (or dirt-eating, as it is commonly called) is generally regarded as a normal behavior as long as the foal does not exclusively eat feces or ingest large quantities of it over a long period of time. In most cases, coprophagy is a harmless behavior that wears off as the foal ages. There are many theories as to why young foals are inclined to do so, the primary one being that the dung contains bacteria that are necessary for populating the foal’s intestinal tract and promoting healthy digestion.

In some instances, this behavior does not subside as time goes on, creating the possibility of health issues in the older animal. Once the horse has passed the age of about five months, coprophagy is to be considered an abnormal behavior requiring professional help. The reasons behind the behavior may lead to discovering underlying health issues that require further treatment.

Symptoms and Types

  • Eating dirt
  • Eating manure
  • Unexplained colic –abdominal pain
  • Ulcers
  • Digestive problems


  • Lack of roughage to graze on
  • Nutritional deficiency (i.e., mineral or protein deficiency)
  • Intestinal parasites
  • Abnormal behavior (stereotypic behavior)


Although it does not necessarily take a veterinarian to recognize coprophagy, it would be helpful to have your foal looked over by an equine veterinarian if the issue has not cleared up around five months, if the behavior appears to be excessive, or if there are other health problems that are seen along with the behavior.

The main issue with coprophagy occurs when horses continue to exhibit this type of behavior, as there is a potential for parasitic infection. In these cases, your veterinarian will verify the horse does not have parasites.


A type of animal feed that is high in fiber; may include hay or pasture crops


The eating of grasses and plants that are low to the ground


The name for the species of horses, donkeys, mules


The feces of an animal; excrement or manure

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