If you're like me, equine nutrition is one of your major concerns when caring for your horse. The role of a good diet can never be underplayed. Great nutrition means a healthier horse and leads to all those things you demand: shiny coat, strong hooves and on demand energy whenever it’s called for.
Something that concerns owners is when their horse starts to eat things that aren't really considered horse food. It is not uncommon for a horse to eat dirt when out at pasture. But what does this mean? Will it hurt him? Can and should I try to stop it?
Abnormal Eating Patterns In Horses.
When out-to-pasture, horses have access to a wide variety of inedible substances. In younger horses and foals, it is not uncommon to see them play with dirt, plants and even their own droppings. In this scenario, they are not actually eating the bits and bobs they come across but testing “mouth feel,” reflexes and their mother’s reactions Naturally, it can be alarming if you suddenly notice your horse licking or eating dirt from the ground. Once described as the result of a nutritional deficiency, this has long been proven to be a myth. Most horses actually have an adequate supply of vitamins and minerals. Pica - the technical term for eating non-food substances - is rarely due to imbalance of nutrients. It is actually the result of other factors including boredom. Your first concern, however, should be to stop the behavior as quickly as possible to limit the ingestion of mud or sand, as this can lead to sand colic.How Do I Stop My Horse From Noshing On Dirt?
Provided there are no other issues present such as weight loss and poor condition, it is most likely your horse is either hungry or bored. If you have any concerns as to his health, your veterinarian will be happy to examine your horse to verify everything’s ok. If your horse is licking and eating dirt, there a few things you can try to keep your horse occupied and prevent him ingesting too much.
Increase the amount of forage fed: in the wild, the horse will eat around 22 hours out of 24. In domestic settings, they are often faced with smaller paddocks with limited forage or long swaths of time in the stall. If given hay in the stall or additional forage in a grazed down field, the horse can often munch through their rations very quickly. Soaking hay can help remove energy from hay so that you can increase hay quantities, safely. If your horse can have the ration increased without excess weight gain, this should be your first choice.
Licking and eating dirt is a behavior which should be addressed in horses as it can lead to fatal sand colic. With our hints and tips, you will soon have a horse eating his normal feed again.
*Image courtesy of Dollar Photo Club
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