Crib Biting in Horses
Cribbing is not a disease, but rather an inappropriate behavioral pattern in horses, also called "stereotypic behavior." Just as humans and other animals can sometimes exhibit obsessive-compulsive behavior that is non-lethal but still destructive, horses too will exhibit repetitive and habitual behaviors that are difficult to control.
A horse that is cribbing will place his upper incisors on a hard object, usually a pole or stall door, and suck in a large amount of air. This will make a gulping noise. The horse will do this repetitively. It is not usually related to nutritional disorders or underlying illnesses, but has been frequently linked to boredom or anxiety. Again, keeping in mind that this behavior is more of an annoyance than an actual health issue, cribbing, if left unchecked, can lead to some superficial health issues, such as the abnormal wearing of the upper incisors and enlargement of the throat muscles.
Cribbing is sometimes incorrectly called wind sucking. As the horse is cribbing, the arching of the neck causes the horse to swallow air. The correct use of the term wind sucking refers to a reproductive problem in mares.
Symptoms and Types
- Gnaw marks usually found on wood pieces, such as stall doors and fence posts.
- Top front teeth (incisors) are worn more than normally found in a horse of its age
- Arching the neck while grasping onto an object with the incisors while gulping air
- Grunting noises as the horse gulps air
Stereotypic behaviors in horses are usually caused by either boredom or stress. Horses that are highly strung and are kept in an environment with low levels of daily stimulation, such as not enough time in the pasture, are at higher risk of developing such behavioral problems. Other stereotypic behaviors include stall weaving (moving back and forth at the front of the stall repetitively), and pawing the ground. Sometimes a horse can exhibit more than one of these behaviors.
Cribbing behavior is easily visualized and therefore very simple to diagnose. Indeed, a veterinarian is not required to diagnose this behavioral problem. However, if you notice this problem in your horse, a visit from your veterinarian is a good idea, as he or she will perform a thorough physical exam on your horse, taking into account the history of symptoms to make sure there are no other underlying problems. Your veterinarian will also want to take a closer look at your horse's mouth to check for changes to the teeth. You can then work with your veterinarian to find ways to help enrich your horse’s environment and discourage the behavior.