Dogs are not known for their discerning palate, so it will come as no surprise to learn that for most dogs, horse poop tastes truly irresistible. But why do dogs view horse dung as a delicacy? What harm will eating horse manure do to our pets? And how can we get our dogs to break the horse poop habit?
Well let’s start at the beginning by understanding why do dogs eat horse poop? The reasons why dogs like to eat horse poop whilst out on a walk, is that they simply can’t resist the smell or the taste. Some dogs may crave horse manure if crucial nutrients are missing from their diet or they are suffering with a health condition.
Reasons why your dog may eat horse poo?
So common is it for dogs to eat poo, that scientists have come up with a specific name for this disgusting habit – coprophagia (kop-ruh-fey-jee-uh). But some dogs go delirious at the sight of horse poop and here are some reasons why:
- Horse poop smells good! Although the smell of manure may be stomach churning to you, it is incredibly attractive to your dog. In fact your Cavapoo will be able to sniff it out from miles away thanks to their sensitive noses and their sense of smell which is up to 100 times greater than ours!
- Horse poop tastes incredible. Horses are vegetarian so their diets are packed with hay, grass, grains, seeds, fruits and berries. Horses do not always digest all of their feed, which makes these ready made bundles of poo particularly tasty as a dog snack for those on the move. Once your Cavapoo gets a taste for horse manure, whether freshly laid or dried up and crispy, there is simply no going back.
- Dogs eat anything. Dogs are scavengers by nature and will put anything and everything in their mouths before wolfing it down. This behavior harks back to your dogs ancestral days, when they would have had to hunt in a pack and protect their food sources before it got snatched away.
- Your dog is lacking in something. Horses have a rich diet that is packed full of nutrients, proteins and enzymes. If your pets diet is deficient in any of these, then your dog will search out another way of digesting them. After all it is not uncommon to see dogs nibbling on blades of grass when they have an upset stomach, so chomping on freshly laid horse patties simply offer a similar solution.
- Your dog may be suffering with a health condition. Parasites drain our dogs of nutrients, and in order to maintain good health, your dog will eat horse manure as a remedy. Other diseases such as diabetes or thyroid issues can cause your dog to want to eat more, especially whilst exercising.
Our Cavapoo Rosie goes crazy for horse poo, and living so close to a large expanse of forest where ponies roam free, means that every walk we go on is like taking a kid to a candy store.
Interesting fact – “Studies have shown that female dogs are far more likely to eat horse poop than male dogs”.
Is it safe for dogs to eat horse poop?
Whilst the horse poop itself is relatively harmless to our dogs – often passing through and popping back out in a similar consistency to when it was eaten – for some dogs there may be a risk of toxicity due to chemicals in worming medications which will be passed in the faeces.
Most horse worming treatments contain a chemical call ivermectin, which is effective against many different parasites. In fact, ivermectin is also found in wormers given to cattle and sheep and in some countries, some dog worming tablets even contain ivermectin in low doses too!
For horses, however, a large dose of ivermectin is required and this can be highly toxic for our dogs. Especially as it can be passed through horse feces for up to 45 days after the worm treatment has been administered.
Most breeds of dog that consume a large amount of horse poop containing ivermectin could become very ill, but some types have a gene mutation which predisposes them to toxicity from ivermectin at low levels too.
These are mainly herding dogs such as Border Collies and Shetland Sheepdogs, as well as breeds such as long haired whippets, but if you do notice that your dog is displaying any of the following symptoms after eating horse poop, then you should contact your vet immediately for advice:
- Struggling to stand
Can dogs get worms from eating horse poop?
Although most horses that are ridden or kept as pets will be wormed regularly by their owners, wild horses will not be.
This means that there is a chance that the horse manure that dogs eat could contains worms, worm eggs or worm larvae (in the case of horses who have intestinal worms).
These parasites are then passed onto those dogs that eat horse manure, which may cause a parasitic infection.
We strongly suggest that you keep up to date with your dogs worming treatments to ensure that they are fully protected from contracting parasites through eating horse poop.
Is horse poop toxic to dogs?
As well as possible ivermectin poisoning, there are other small risks that could mean eating horse poop is bad for your dog.
Although horse poop is not toxic for our dogs as such, there can be traces of salmonella and campylobacter in horse feces.
This may sound alarming, but most dogs have quite robust gastrointestinal tracts, so infections from dogs eating horse poo are relatively rare.
You should also be vigilant when out walking when you see holes and flies flitting around the horse poop. This could be a sign that there are parasites in the manure droppings which could lead to a bacterial infection.
How to stop your dog from eating horse manure
As we know, horse manure containing ivermectin can be fatal if a large dosage is passed through to your dog, or if your dog belongs to one of the breeds that is susceptible to ivermectin toxicity.
Keeping your dog from ingesting horse manure is not only a concern from a cleanliness point of view, but is important to keep your dog safe from harm.
No amount of shouting at our Cavapoo seems to stop her scoffing her face full of horse manure, but for the sake of her health (and breath), as responsible dog owners, we would like to help her break the horse poo habit.
Whilst we try our best to limit the places we walk to those where we hope not to find any horse manure lurking, it is difficult to control her access to horse poop in rural settings. Therefore we have had to implement some different methods of training and taken a look at factors which could be driving her to devour horse poo.
- Improving your dog’s diet: Whilst Rosie has a relatively good diet, we have taken a closer look at her dog food to ensure it contains the right amount of vitamins and proteins. If you think your dog may be lacking in nutrients, then consult your vet who can advise on specific supplements for your pet.
- Teach your dog the leave it command: We have been working hard on using a specific command and treat technique with Rosie. The idea being that when we give the ‘leave it’ command, she is rewarded for her good behavior with a tasty doggy treat, instead of eating horse manure.
- Associate bad taste with horse manure: If the above method fails to work, then you may want to try using a deterrent to create a negative association to the horse manure. Some owners sprinkle a strong tasting substance such a cayenne pepper on the horse poop, so that when their dogs eat horse manure, they do not get an instant taste reward from the steaming pile of poo.
- Avoid punishment: Try to avoid shouting or screaming at your dog when they eat horse manure. It is a dogs natural instinct to scavenge and dogs respond much better to positive reinforcement.
Whilst the “leave it” command appears to be working for us, if horse poop eating continues to become problematic for you and your dog, then it could be sign of health issue such as parasites, so you should seek veterinary intervention.
Other frequently asked questions relating to ‘why does my dog eat horse poop” include:
Why do dogs eat their own poo?
An important role that a mother dog must do is to clean up after their pups – and this includes eating their poo! Removing faeces early by eating it, prevents infectious parasites developing in the days after it’s deposited. Therefore when you catch your dog eating their own poo, it is possible that this is a learnt behavior.
Why do dogs eat grass?
Dogs tend to eat grass when they are stressed, bored, or seeking nutrients. Alternatively some dogs may just like the way in which grass tastes and feels. Whilst it is quite common for dogs to eat grass, you need to be careful incase the grass has been treated with chemicals.
Although for most dogs, eating horse poop is nothing but a gross, harmless habit, for others it can be dangerous – especially if the horse has been treated for worms or if your dog is a breed that is susceptible to ivermectin toxicity.