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Sun, 17 Feb 2019 16:15:00

COPING WITH CRIBBING

Is your horse a lignophobe? Don’t worry – this is not some horrid disease, but rather a stereotypy exhibited by some horses that have a penchant for biting and chewing wood (lignophobia). In the horse world this rather worrying behaviour is known as cribbing, crib-biting or wind-sucking.

Traditionally horses who crib-bite (and it’s estimated around 4% of them do) were thought to have developed this nasty habit out of boredom and/or anxiety. Long hours alone in the stable or pasture with no distraction may drive him to bite and chew on the stable door or fence post. Once established it’s a habit that’s hard to break – a bit like the repetitive behaviours of obsessive-compulsive humans driven to repeated hand-washing, nail-biting or knuckle-cracking.

So, it’s not an illness and could well be cured just by giving the cribbing horse more stimulation? Yes true, but modern thinking is that in some cases it may be the sign of ulcers  – and indeed if not checked it can lead to physical problems, not least the wearing down of the teeth.

Evidence of Cribbing


As an observant and caring horse owner you won’t be able to avoid noticing that your horse is cribbing. He’ll take every opportunity to put his upper incisors on a wooden fixture – usually a fence pole, gate or stable door – arch his neck and start making a gulping, grunting noise, sucking in air. You’ll find gnaw marks on the wood, and his top incisors will be worn down beyond what is normal for his age.

Effects of Cribbing


The arching of the neck that takes place during crib-biting can put a strain on the underneck muscles, the oesophagus and the pharynx, affecting the respiratory and gastrointestinal system.

The wearing of the teeth may cause the horse difficulties with grazing, and very often cribbers will interrupt their feeding in order to satisfy their cribbing craving, which means some may lose weight.

Not only are determined cribbers damaging the wooden structures around them, but they are also affecting their physical health.

Ulcers


You may think his cribbing is more annoying than anything else, but as we stated previously modern thinking is that there could be more to this behaviour than just a vice brought on by boredom.

In a study at Bristol University involving cribbing foals it was found that many of them had gastric ulcers, and some stopped cribbing after they were given an antacid diet and their ulcers healed.

Other researchers have also demonstrated a connection between cribbing and the discomfort caused by stomach ulcers. Apparently cribbing stimulates the flow of saliva, reducing the acidity in the stomach, which has been associated with concentrate feeding.


Combatting Cribbing


In the light of the above if your horse is cribbing it is definitely worth consulting your vet about the possibility of gastric ulcers being the cause, and taking appropriate recommended dietary action, also administering antacids.

Increase the roughage in your horse’s diet and cut down on sweet treats and feeds.
Even if you believe your horse is ulcer-free, but still cribs, it’s worth talking to your vet and investigating other causes, such as anxiety or boredom.

If you think he’s cribbing out of boredom, find ways to enrich his life and add mental and physical stimulation to his daily routine. Increase the amount of time he spends turned out, give him toys to play with and make sure he has companionship and regular grooming and exercise sessions.

If this doesn’t help you could ultimately resort to a commercial anti-cribbing paint or spray to make wooden surfaces unattractive to him, or physical cribbing restraints, such as a strap or collar that prevents him from pulling his neck back to crib.

To reduce anxiety and stress make sure he’s fed regularly and has a regular routine where he knows what to expect when.

Managing a cribber is not easy, but it’s not a behaviour that should be ignored. It’s a sign your horse needs help either emotionally or physically. This is one condition where one cannot say prevention is better than cure!

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