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Conquering Cribbing: Techniques for Managing Stereotypic Behavior in Horses

Cribbing in Horses: Causes, Health Risks, and Management

Cribbing is a common behavioral problem among horses, and it has been observed in equine populations worldwide. Although it is not a dangerous behavior, it can be destructive to fences, stalls, and the horse’s teeth.

The term “cribbing” is used to describe a horse that grasps a solid object such as a fence post, stall door, or gate with its teeth, arches its neck, and sucks in air. This causes the horse to make a distinct and repetitive grunting noise.

Types of Cribbing

Cribbing is a stereotypic behavior that can manifest in a few different forms.

  • Wind-sucking is the most common form of cribbing and occurs when a horse sucks in air without grasping onto an object.
  • Wood chewing, on the other hand, involves biting and chewing on wooden surfaces such as fence posts and stalls.
  • Crib-biting is a more severe form of cribbing that involves the horse biting and pulling back on an object, often making a loud noise.

Why Horses Crib

There are many reasons why horses develop these abnormal behaviors, including stress, boredom, habit, insufficient exercise, and digestive issues.

  • Stress is perhaps the most common cause of cribbing, as horses may develop this behavior to cope with the pressures of their environment.
  • Boredom is another common cause of cribbing. Horses that are kept in stalls with no access to toys or other forms of stimulation often develop stereotypic behaviors such as cribbing.
  • Insufficient exercise can lead to the development of cribbing. When horses do not receive enough physical activity, they may become bored and restless, leading to the development of stereotypic behaviors such as cribbing.
  • Habituation can also be a cause of cribbing. Horses that develop the behavior early in life may continue to engage in it subconsciously, even after stress or confinement has been removed.

Health Risks of Cribbing

One of the most common health risks associated with cribbing is dental problems.

  • As horses continually grasp onto surfaces with their teeth and arch their necks to suck in air, they put excessive wear and tear on their teeth.
  • This can lead to sharp or uneven surfaces that affect the horse’s ability to chew and, ultimately, digest food properly.
  • Additionally, the constant suction and swallowing of air can cause gastrointestinal issues that can lead to colic.
  • Moreover, cribbing has been linked to a higher incidence of epiploic foramen entrapment – a condition that occurs when a portion of the small intestine becomes trapped in a small opening in the horse’s abdominal cavity.
  • Epiploic foramen entrapment can be a life-threatening condition that requires emergency veterinary care.
  • Weight loss is another common risk of cribbing. As horses spend a considerable amount of time cribbing, they may not be consuming enough food or water, leading to a calorie deficit that results in weight loss.
  • This can lead to a host of other issues, including muscle loss, weakness, and fatigue.

Is Cribbing Contagious?

Cribbing is not a contagious behavior in the traditional sense, where exposure to an infected individual leads to the transmission of a disease. However, cribbing may have learned behavioral aspects that can influence other horses in a herd or those exposed to it.

When a horse that cribs is in close proximity to other horses, those horses may begin to observe and learn the behavior, leading to its development.

It is important to note that while exposure to cribbing may increase the risk of developing the behavior, it does not necessarily mean that all horses will start cribbing. Many factors influence the development of cribbing, including genetics, environment, and management practices.

Techniques for Curbing Cribbing

There are several different techniques that can be employed to curtail cribbing behavior in horses.

Behavioral Enrichment

Providing horses with toys, hanging balls, jolly balls, interactive feeders, and other forms of stimuli can help keep their minds occupied and reduce the risk of boredom and stress that cause cribbing.

Cribbing Collars and Muzzles

A cribbing collar is a harness-like device that fits over the horse’s neck and applies pressure when the horse tries to suck in air. The pressure is designed to deter them from continuing the behavior.

A cribbing muzzle fits over the horse’s mouth, preventing them from grasping onto objects or sucking in air to crib.

Environmental Management

  • Make changes to the environment, give the horse lesser time in the stall, and encourage him to socialize more in the field.

Surgery

Surgery is a last-ditch effort, where a veterinarian removes a muscle connected to the horse’s esophagus, which is involved in cribbing.

Bad Tasting Sprays

Bad tasting sprays have also been developed to discourage horses from cribbing. They include things like cayenne pepper or bitter apple and can be sprayed directly onto surfaces that horses would typically crib on.

Some owners also treat the horse’s feed with herbal remedies designed to relieve stress and anxiety.

Shock collars and hog rings are not recommended as they are unethical and harm the animals immensely.

Considerations for Purchasing a Cribber

Selling a horse with a history of cribbing can be challenging as not all buyers may be willing to take on the management needed for the horse’s habit.

  • It is essential to inform potential buyers fully about the horse’s history of cribbing. This includes the severity of the behavior, when it tends to occur, and what has been done to manage it.
  • Buyers need to be aware of the potential challenges involved with managing a horse that cribs and if they possess the patience to deal with it.
  • Owners can also consider giving their cribbing horse a companion to reduce the incidence of the behavior.
  • Companion animals are also effective as good management aides. Horses are herd animals and often feel more comfortable and relaxed when they have a stablemate nearby.

FAQs:

Q: Is cribbing contagious among horses?

A: While cribbing is not contagious in the traditional sense, it can be a learned behavior that influences other horses in the same environment.

Q: Are cribbing collars and muzzles effective?

A: Cribbing collars and muzzles can be effective at limiting a horse’s ability to crib, but their effectiveness depends on the severity of the behavior.

Q: What are some environmental management techniques for curbing cribbing?

A: Environmental management techniques include providing horses with access to pasture, toys, social contact, and other forms of stimulation.

Q: Can cribbing cause health issues for horses?

A: Yes, cribbing can cause several health issues for horses, including dental problems, colic, epiploic foramen entrapment, and weight loss.

Q: What factors should be considered when purchasing or selling a cribbing horse?

A: Full disclosure of the horse’s history is important, and buyers should consider whether they have the patience and ability to manage the habit. Companion animals can also be helpful in reducing the incidence of the behavior.

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