A taste for plas­tic?

EQUUS - - Eq Consultant­s -

Q:My 10-year-old Ap­paloosa mare loves any­thing plas­tic. She gnaws on her feed bucket un­less I stand right over her. If I move away she bites the edges of her feed bin. She tries to suck down the worm­ing tube and will gob­ble up any­thing plas­tic that she can find in the pas­ture. A few years ago she reached into our cart stor­age area and took a big bite out of the seat. The util­ity com­pa­nies are con­stantly put­ting those lit­tle plas­tic flags along the right of way and she will eat ev­ery one she can find. I have tried paint­ing her feed bucket sides with a mix­ture of jalapeno and ha­banero pep­pers but she just licks it off.

Our three other horses don’t do this. We feed a good-qual­ity grain along with a vi­ta­min sup­ple­ment. This mare is oth­er­wise healthy and has all her vac­ci­na­tions up to date. The ve­teri­nar­ian can’t ex­plain this be­hav­ior ex­cept to say she just loves plas­tic.

I am on a con­stant hunt for plas­tic mark­ing flags in our pas­tures. I worry that one of these days some­thing plas­tic will cause an im­paction or the metal on those util­ity flags will lodge in her di­ges­tive tract. The util­ity com­pa­nies are for­bid­den to come on our land with­out no­tice but they of­ten sneak in and plant those flags with­out our knowl­edge.

We love this mare very much. She is quite a char­ac­ter and my hus­band’s fa­vorite. Any sug­ges­tions will be greatly ap­pre­ci­ated. Lynda Ed­wards Mont­gomery, Texas

A:It is in­ter­est­ing that hot sauces do not de­ter your mare. Cre­osote---chem­i­cals de­rived from tars that are used in preser­va­tives, an­ti­sep­tics and a va­ri­ety of other prod­ucts---seems to be the only taste that most horses dis­like, but it is bet­ter to de­ter­mine why your mare likes plas­tic rather than pun­ish­ing her at­tempts to in­gest it.

The be­hav­ior she is ex­hibit­ing is called pica, which is de­fined as eat­ing non-feed ob­jects. Horses do oc­ca­sion­ally have pica, and dirt eat­ing is one type. One case I worked with was a foal whose dam had died at his birth and who, de­spite ex­pert nu­tri­tional rec­om­men­da­tions, had di­ar­rhea and ate dirt, pos­si­bly in­di­cat­ing a kind of nu­tri­tional wis­dom be­cause clay (kaolin) is a treat­ment for di­ar­rhea. In other cases, the dirt may con­tain an el­e­ment the horse is lack­ing, in par­tic­u­lar, iron.

I can­not imag­ine what nu­tri­ent is con­tained in plas­tic---a pe­tro­leum prod­uct---so your mare’s in­ter­est in in­gest­ing it may be related to some other as­pect of her man­age­ment. Many horses eat wood, but chew less of their barn and fences if the amount of fiber in their diet is in­creased. You men­tioned that you feed your mare good-qual­ity grain and a vi­ta­min sup­ple­ment but you don’t say how much hay she re­ceives. It’s pos­si­ble your mare hunts for plas­tic in her pas­ture be­cause there isn’t enough grass for her to browse and con­sume. Free-rang­ing horses spend 60 per­cent of their time graz­ing, and horses in stalls spend a sim­i­lar per­cent­age eat­ing hay, if it is avail­able free choice.

Try of­fer­ing your mare as much roughage as you can. I’d sug­gest pro­vid­ing more than one type---sev­eral kinds of hay, straw or other for­age. You can slow down her in­take by pre­sent­ing the hay in a net that has small open­ings or a feeder de­signed to slow a horse’s in­take. While on pas­ture she could wear a graz­ing muz­zle to pre­vent her from in­gest­ing the plas­tic flags.

I hope you and your hus­band can keep en­joy­ing this per­son­able mare for many years to come.

Kather­ine A. Houpt, VMD, PhD, DACVB An­i­mal Be­hav­ior Con­sul­tants of North­ern Michi­gan Gay­lord, Michi­gan

The be­hav­ior called pica is de­fined as eat­ing non-feed ob­jects.

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