toward the pile of his own fresh manure. Much to my horror, he slowly
reached his neck down, opened his mouth wide, and took a huge bite of
the steaming heap. I was stunned. I yelled, "Eww! Don't eat your
poop!" at him. Didn't he know poop wasn't edible?
Later, I looked it up, found
out that horses sometimes eat manure when they need certain bacteria
called probiotics (meaning "for life") that aid in digestion.
Because horses eat mostly grass and roughage, they rely on these microorganisms
to ferment and break down their food. Without probiotics, horses cannot
properly digest their food.
Probiotics do not occur in large enough numbers for a horse to acquire
naturally. A newborn foal is born without any type of digestive bacteria
but soon receives some from contact with his mother or other horses.
These bacteria settle in the horse's digestive tract and multiply. When
a horse is under stress, bacteria populations can suffer which can lead
to improper digestion, and in extreme cases, colic in your horse. Administering
antibiotics can also kill off these good bacteria, which is why some
veterinarians recommend giving probiotics along with antibiotics.
Bacteria grow accustomed to
an individual horse's diet and different horses will have differing
probiotic populations. A sudden change of diet can shock the intestinal
bacteria and cause discomfort or colic in a horse.
Because many horses today are
fed refined grains and grasses, instead of a natural diet, horses may
suffer from microbial imbalance.
Probiotics can be purchased
at a feed store and given as a supplement. They are supposed to be eaten
and take up residence in your horse's digestive tract. While there is
little scientific evidence that they significantly improve digestion,
they have no side effects, so some horse owners do include them in their
Eating manure may also be a sign of vitamin or mineral deficiency. Always
provide mineral and salt blocks, and contact your veterinarian if this
strange behavior persists.