Has your horse started eating or licking the soil? The ingestion of soil in animals is referred to as geophagia.

The reason some horses eat dirt is not fully understood. But the behavior is thought to serve a nutritional purpose by providing minerals and other nutrients that might be lacking in the diet. [1][2][3]

Geophagia may also be linked to boredom or stress. [1] Horses may nibble on the soil to pass the time, relieve anxiety, or alleviate stomach pain.

Geophagia can be harmful because the soil may contain parasites and other pathogens that cause illness. [2] Excessive ingestion of dirt can also damage the intestines and lead to impaction colic.

You can help to prevent your horse from practicing geophagy by providing them with a healthy forage-based diet that meets their nutritional needs.

If your horse is ingesting dirt, consult with your veterinarian to rule out any underlying medical causes and to develop a management plan to help redirect this behavior.

Why is My Horse Eating Soil?

Geophagy, also referred to as geophagia, is a behavior that involves eating dirt. [1][2][3] The condition has been observed in domesticated and wild horses and in other species including camels, buffalo, and sheep. [2]

This condition is a form of pica, the craving for and consumption of non-food items. [1] Horses may also be seen eating tree bark, wood (lignophagia), bedding, hair and manure (coprophagy).

Some expressions of geophagy may be an example of stereotypic behaviors, which are repetitive behaviours expressed to alleviate stress or boredom.

However, in some horses, the licking or eating of dirt does appear to serve a purpose. Horses may engage in geophagy because they are seeking one or more nutrients in the soil that are missing in their daily diet. [2][3]

In other species, pica is associated with amino acid deficiencies, vitamins and trace mineral deficiencies, a lack of alkaline substances, or imbalances in minerals such as the calcium to phosphorus ratio. [2]

Seeking Nutrients in Soil

Wild horses have been seen visiting the same sites repeatedly to ingest soil from specific areas. Domesticated horses have been observed performing the same behavior in paddocks and yards. [3]

The sites that horses visit when engaging in geophagia are typically small in area and returned to on multiple occasions. [3] Their return to the same sites suggests the locations are associated with a resource that may provide a physiological benefit. [3]

Research also shows that areas in which horses engage in geophagia tend to contain higher levels of iron and copper in the soil compared to control sites. [3]

Mineral deficiencies could explain why some horses eat soil, including diets that are lacking in the following minerals: [2]

Mad About Horses
Join Dr. Chris Mortensen, PhD on an exciting adventure into the story of the horse and learn how we can make the world a better place for all equines.
Apple Podcasts Spotify Youtube
Mad Barn - Equine Nutrition Consultants | Mad Barn Canada

Signs of Geophagy

Many horse owners become aware of