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Why Do Dogs Eat Horse Poop?

Dogs can engage in numerous odd behaviors that leave us scratching our heads.

But one of the most disgusting and revolting of these deeds is their occasional (or regular) habit of eating horse poop.

It goes without saying, that we—the much evolved human race—find this action completely revolting, but with some dogs the conduct is completely commonplace, albeit inexplicable to us.

So why would our well-fed, domesticated pooch participate in such a repellant act?

This is the question we will address in some detail in the article below.

Here we will outline some of the primary reasons that drive dogs to munch on horse poop.

We will also highlight some of the risks associated with this strange behavior, and provide some tips you can employ to help terminate it.

Why Does My Dog Eat Horse Poop? And How to Stop It.

If you are a dog owner that lives on a property with horses, or perhaps you just live in a rural area where horse sightings are common, you may have witnessed your four-legged pet sampling a horse dropping or two.

Although not all dogs engage in this peculiar behavior, some certainly do.

And if you live with a dog that does this, you may be quite concerned that the conduct can lead to health problems.

So why do dogs eat horse poop and how common is this behavior?

Let’s deal with the second part of this question first.

Unfortunately, it is difficult to gauge just how many dogs are driven to eat horse poop, because not all dogs have access to it.

Dogs residing in urban or suburban areas, for example, may go a whole lifetime without ever seeing horse poop, so it’s hard to tell just how many of them would do this if given the chance.

There have been studies, however, that have determined a rough percentage of rural dogs that eat horse poop—and the number is about 20 percent.

The practice of eating poop actually has a name:  conspecific coprophagy.

Many dogs participate in it, and some breeds are more apt to do it than others, specifically some of the larger breeds of dogs.

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There are a number of potential reasons for why a dog may eat horse poop.

The two most likely of these are smell and taste.

For some dogs, the smell and taste of horse droppings is actually an attractant, and the only way to prevent these dogs from engaging in the activity is to limit their access to it.

Granted, this can be difficult for those dog owners who live on ranches and farms, but because of the potential health risks associated with the conduct it is vital that it be addressed.

While taste and smell are the two primary drivers of conspecific coprophagy, they are not the only reasons.

Some nutritional deficiencies and health conditions can also lead to the behavior.

Here is our list of all the potential reasons why your dog may be gastronomically attracted to horse poop.

Your Dog Likes the Smell and Taste of Horse Poop

Yes, it may sound utterly gross to us, but some dogs actually dig the smell and taste of horse poop.

Horse poop contains remnants of partially digested food, and because a horse will eat almost anything it is given or has access to, their droppings can contain a virtual smorgasbord for dogs.

All the things that you regularly chastise your dog for eating—grass, hay, undigested corn, wild berries, fruits and the like—are dispensed in horse feces.

This creates a smell and a taste that is very appealing to your pooch.

In fact, dogs do not view those droppings as something to be avoided, but rather as a handy, all-in-one snack that is ready-made for eating.

To discourage your dog from eating horse poop you will need to be very diligent.

If you live on a property with horses, be sure to clean up your horses’ waste regularly, and limit your dog’s exposure to it.

Of course, your pet may still come upon a nice tasty road apple every once in a while, but as long as you can limit their access to it, you can usually avoid any of the potential health risks that may follow.

Nutritional Deficiencies

In dogs not receiving the proper nutrition they need to thrive, eating horse poop (and other feces) may be a way to supplement their diet.

Nutritional and enzyme deficiencies can cause dogs to become hungrier than normal and to crave certain types of foods to meet their needs.

Sometimes, horse poop will contain some of those substances that they need to thrive.

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While most commercial dog food brands contain the nutrients dogs need to grow and thrive, there are certain medical conditions that can lead to deficiencies in specific enzymes.

Regular checkups with your vet can help identify and treat these conditions—and in some cases, prevent them altogether.

Innate Behavior

Dogs are direct descendants of wild canines, namely wolves, coyotes and foxes.

Despite being long domesticated, sometimes dogs can resort to primal behavior that is seen in the wild.

Wolves, coyotes and foxes are known to eat feces as a way of keeping their dens clean of the substance.

They do this to protect their young pups from the contaminants often found in poop, especially if that poop is allowed to sit too long.

Unconsumed poop will attract flies and other insects that lay larvae—larvae that can harm dogs, especially puppies.

Innate behavior like this is usually seen in households with more than one dog.

To address it, we recommend you meet with a licensed trainer who can proceed with a behavior modification plan to curb the problem.

Certain Medical Conditions and Medications

There are a few medical conditions and common medications that can simply make dogs hungrier on a regular basis.

And if those hunger needs are not regularly addressed via the foods and treats we dispense each day, your pup may turn to other forms of “nutrition.”

Diabetes in dogs is just one of the conditions that can make your dog hungrier on a regular basis—and may make your dog crave certain substances, including horse poop.

Common medications, such as steroids, can also lead to increased hunger and cravings.

If you believe your dog is eating horse poop because of a medical condition or a drug he is taking, be sure to speak with your vet about some of the interventions they commonly use to address these issues.

Attention-Seeking Behavior

According to experts, some dogs engage in poop-eating behaviors merely as a way to get our attention.

For example, if you have previously disciplined your dog for eating horse poop, he may repeat the behavior to see if your reaction is the same.

This is common in dogs who receive little to no positive affirmations from their owner.

They so crave an interaction (of any kind), that they subject themselves to negative attention just to be noticed.

When attention-seeking is the reason behind this unwanted conduct, it is crucial that you not overreact.

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Instead, ignore it, and then later look for ways to reward them for acting appropriately.

Anxiety

Lastly, some dogs may eat horse poop (and their own feces) due to anxiety.

For instance, dogs that were severely chastised for indoor potty accidents during their house training, may come to view any sign of feces as a potential for harsh discipline.

As a result, they try to get rid of any evidence.

There are a number of behavior modification strategies that have proven successful in the treatment of doggie anxiety.

If you fear you have a chronically anxious pet, it’s important that you discuss these issues with both your vet and a licensed trainer who together can work to resolve the issues.

The Risks Associated with Dogs Eating Horse Poop

Although the occasional snack of horse dung is probably not going to harm your dog, repeated and frequent episodes of this behavior can be very harmful.

The reason for this is a drug called Ivermectin.

Ivermectin is a drug used to treat intestinal worms in animals, including dogs and horses.

In dogs, the dose of Ivermectin, which is regularly given to treat heartworm and some forms of mange, is adjusted according to the size, weight and breed of the dog.

Naturally, when the drug is used to treat parasites in horses—a much larger animal—the dose is considerably higher.

Ivermectin can be present in horse dung after it is used to treat the intestinal parasites.

And if dogs eat enough horse poop, they can be exposed to toxic levels of the drug.

According to experts, when Ivermectin is consumed in amounts large enough to cross the blood-brain barrier in dogs, it can lead to a whole slew of neurological symptoms and abnormalities, including:

  • Abnormal gait.  If you notice your dog stumbling about or moving in an uncoordinated manner, a trip to the vet should be imminent.
  • Eye abnormalities.  Dilation of the pupils is a common abnormality in Ivermectin poisoning, and blindness is even possible.
  • Altered behavior.  This behavior can range from confusion to indoor potty accidents to comas in the most severe cases.
  • Seizures.  Seizures and tremors are common in dogs who ingest too much Ivermectin.

Other scary symptoms of Ivermectin toxicity include spontaneous vomiting and drooling, among other odd behaviors.

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