why is my horse eating dirt

Why Is My Horse Eating Dirt? Insights and Solutions from Equine Experts

by | Jul 18, 2023 | Equine Health, Equine Treatment

Geophagia, or dirt eating, is an unusual yet fairly common behaviour exhibited by horses. The sight of your horse ingesting soil can be perplexing, raising immediate concerns about their health and well-being. While sometimes the action might simply be out of boredom or curiosity, it’s often a sign that something is amiss with your equine companion’s nutritional or health status.

Understanding Geophagia

In essence, geophagia is a condition where your horse engages in the act of eating dirt or soil. Though unusual, it’s a practice that is not exclusive to horses. Various animals, including elephants and primates, have been observed consuming soil. However, when your horse begins to display this behaviour, it’s critical to understand the underlying reasons to prevent potential health problems.

Potential Causes of Geophagia

The impulse for a horse to consume dirt generally stems from two main sources: a nutritional deficiency or gastrointestinal issues. If your horse’s diet lacks essential minerals such as salt, iron, or phosphorus, they may turn to soil as a substitute source. In other instances, your horse may be attempting to soothe an upset stomach, similar to humans consuming antacid medicines for heartburn relief.

A less common but more serious trigger for geophagia is the presence of intestinal parasites. These invaders may instigate abnormal eating behaviour as they deplete the horse’s nutrients and disrupt their digestive process.

Indicators of Geophagia

While the act of a horse eating dirt is quite evident, other signs can accompany this behaviour. Your horse may show signs of weight loss, dull coat, lethargy, or changes in their regular eating habits. In severe cases, symptoms can escalate to colic, irregular fecal matter, and overall performance decline. It’s important to keep an eye on your horse’s general demeanour and health, in addition to their peculiar dirt-eating habit.

Addressing and Preventing Geophagia

Addressing geophagia starts with identifying and managing its root cause. A comprehensive health check-up, including blood tests and fecal analysis, can provide crucial insights into any nutritional deficiencies or parasite infestations that may be causing the problem.

To combat mineral deficiencies, consider supplements like the Farnam Vita Plus Feed Supplement that is packed with vitamins and minerals to ensure a well-rounded diet. If your horse’s salt intake is insufficient, the Himalayan Horse Salt Lick is a popular and natural choice to fulfill their craving.

When it comes to gastrointestinal health, supplementing with probiotics like Probios Vets Plus Feed Granule for Horses can be effective in promoting a healthy gut. This can prove especially beneficial if your horse has been consuming dirt to ease digestive discomfort. If your horse has been eating dirt you may also want to supplement psyllium husk to aid in digestion of sand/dirt.

For horses dealing with parasitic infections, routine deworming is crucial. Products like Durvet Ivermectin Paste Dewormer offer broad-spectrum parasite control, helping to keep those unwelcome guests at bay.

The Role of Diet and Environment

In addition to health and nutritional concerns, your horse’s environment and diet can significantly influence their propensity to engage in geophagia. Horses, by their very nature, are grazing animals that spend the majority of their day foraging for food. If their environment is devoid of natural forage, or if their diet lacks adequate roughage, they may turn to dirt to satisfy their instinctual urge to graze.

A diet rich in quality hay or pasture can provide your horse with plenty of chew time, which not only satiates their natural inclination to forage but also aids in proper digestion. Including a balanced concentrate like Nutrena SafeChoice Original Horse Feed can supplement their nutrient needs, particularly if your horse is a high-performance breed or a senior.

Moreover, providing a stimulating environment with plenty of grazing or foraging opportunities can also deter your horse from indulging in soil consumption. Regular exercise and interaction with other horses can keep boredom at bay and ensure your horse’s mental wellbeing.

Veterinary Intervention and Regular Monitoring

Addressing geophagia isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. Since it can indicate various underlying issues, it’s crucial to involve your veterinarian in assessing your horse’s condition and devising an appropriate treatment plan. Regular check-ups can help identify any nutritional imbalances or health issues early, preventing potential complications that might arise from prolonged dirt eating.

The veterinarian might recommend dietary modifications, environmental changes, and routine health monitoring. Keep a close eye on your horse’s behaviour, appetite, and overall health to detect any unusual changes. Implementing a proactive management plan, under the guidance of your vet, can help prevent the occurrence of geophagia and ensure your horse’s long-term wellbeing.

Related: Sand Colic in Horses


Geophagia can initially seem perplexing and concerning. However, with a thorough understanding of the causes and appropriate preventive measures, it can be managed effectively. From addressing nutritional deficiencies with supplements, maintaining a healthy gut through probiotics, to regular deworming and providing a balanced diet, there are numerous ways to help your horse curb this behaviour. Combining these solutions with regular veterinary check-ups and close monitoring, you can ensure that your horse remains in optimal health, free from the need to consume dirt.

About The Author

<a href="https://www.equiniction.com/author/issabella-m/" target="_self">Issabella Mitchel</a>

Issabella Mitchel

Isabella is a remarkable equestrian and racehorse trainer, hailing from the horse capital of the world, Kentucky. Growing up in the heart of bluegrass country, she developed a deep affinity for horses from an early age.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This