Fact Or Fiction Quiz On Eating Feces
Coprophagy (eating feces) is common to many animals, and horses are no exception. How much do you know about this phenomenon? Let’s check your understanding with a fact or fiction quiz.
True or False Quiz
Click the statements to see the answers. How’d you do?
Feeding a balanced formula high in soluble fiber (beet pulp & soy hulls) to complement the forage portion of the diet appears to reduce the frequency of eating feces. Feeding a low calorie, no grain, high soluble fiber balanced formula, such as Integrity Lite, is one way to ensure that the daily diet is balanced.
Ingestion of fecal material frequently raises concerns with horse owners. Coprophagy is a natural exploration by all equids and the primary benefit is inoculating the gut with bacteria that are necessary for hindgut digestion in the herbivore gut. The habit is more likely behavioral and is often accentuated through boredom.
In the wild there are “stud piles” of manure which some believe is a method of stallions “marking”. There are pheromones in these body fluids which are chemical substances detected by scent and may influence sexual attraction and behavior, which is why feral stallions in the wild will actively explore and smell urine and fecal deposits.
A horse cannot process the thought, “oh, I need a little more iron, or riboflavin, or copper” and start seeking out a food source that supplies that nutrients. However, there are physiological mechanisms with all animals that tell us when we are hungry, thirsty, or a desire for a “taste for salt”. For all practical purposes coprophagy has absolutely nothing to do with nutrition unless the horse is unhealthy and in very poor condition.
During my early days as a professor, I recall another professor at another university rationalizing that since microorganisms in the hind gut produce B-vitamins and vitamin K, coprophagy is a method of retrieving those nutrients since the nutrients can only be processed and absorbed in the foregut. This reasoning is based on the rabbit consuming a soft fecal pellet before evacuation. That reasoning is not valid. Horses have a very long gut and microorganisms do live throughout the gut and there is a significant population of micros in the distal (end) section of the small intestine. These micros can produce the B vitamins and vitamin K and there is an opportunity for absorption of those nutrients in the distal portion of the foregut. So there is physiological process in the horse for the B vitamins and vitamin K to be made and absorbed.
Coprophagy is sometimes confused with the term Pica. Pica is the eating of non-foods such as dirt, sand, bark, twigs, etc. This behavior may be associated with hunger but more commonly is a result of exploratory behavior of the horse, including boredom. Mouthing or muzzling objects is one way in which horses explore their surroundings.