Why do horses eat sand?

Horses often ingest sand ‘accidentally’ with their hay or grass. But some horses really eat sand by the mouthful! Sometimes this is youthful misbehavior that stops after a while. But sand
eating can also have different underlying causes. If your horse likes to eat sand, it is a good idea to look at the possible reasons.

Reason 1: mineral deficiency
Some horses eat sand to resupply certain minerals in their body. An example is iron. These horses can be seen licking certain colors of soil and sometimes even digging for specific soil
layers. If you watch your horse doing this, it is a wise idea to provide a mineral lick. Perhaps you need to try several types of lick before your horse stops eating sand. Should the sand eating continue, ask your vet for a blood test. Your horse’s blood is then checked for mineral
deficiencies.

Reason 2: stomach problems
Another underlying cause of sand eating is a painful stomach. Many horses have undiagnosed ulcers or stomach erosion. The latter means that the mucous lining of the stomach is thinner than it should be. In this case, corrosive stomach acids can access the stomach wall and cause pain. To counter this stomach pain, horses often eat sand.

Stomach problems in horses are caused by stress or by fasting too long. Horses cannot go
without hay or silage for extended periods of time. They constantly produce stomach acids, even when their stomachs are empty. Your vet can check the presence of ulcers. For stomach erosion several medicines are available.

Reason 3: Learned behavior
Your horse doesn’t have a mineral shortage and no stomach problems? Maybe the sand eating is learned behavior. Perhaps the horse was bored in the paddock and wanted to ‘graze’. Or it did have stomach problems or a mineral deficiency in the past and has now taught itself to eat sand. Once learned, this is very hard to stop. Using a sand mask or moving the horse to a meadow are the only solutions.

 

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