Monday, January 26, 2009

Cribbing: nasty habit?

Cribbing: this is where the horse grabs a solid object such as a stall door, rocks his body backward and arches his neck, sucking in air as he pulls against the object.

Some facts about cribbing:

"Psychology researchers at the University of Southampton in England have discovered that horses who crib have a greater difficulty learning reward-based behaviours than do thos who do not engage in the habitual behaviour." - Equus 373/13 (Oct 08)

"A new study from the United Kingdom shows that horses who crib are 67 times more likely to develop epiploic foramen entrapment (EFE), a type of colic involving strangulating obstruction of the small intestine, than are horses who do not exhibit this behaviour."
"Archer* stresses, however, that her findings do not suggest that cribbing is a direct cause of EFE." - Equus 372/17 (Sept 08)

Causes of cribbing have been proven to include:
1- environmental factors such as stress or boredom
...which incidentally can cause...
2- digestive discomfort such as ulcers

Cribbing can cause colic (or can be an early sign of digestive upset, which would eventually culminate in colic) and weight loss, each of which exacerbates cribbing, which exacerbates digestive upset...and so on. Environmental factors also exacerbate digestive discomfort, and cribbing exacerbates the stress that continues the vicious circle.

Since cribbing is not a bad habit but is rather a manifestation of an underlying problem, putting a cribbing collar on a horse that cribs only masks the problem rather than elminates or fixes it. Most cribbing collars therefore do not actually even work since they do not fix the underlying problem - many even end up leaving sores on the horse. The only thing most cribbing collars achieve is to cover up what we do not wish to have visible at the expense of our horses.

""My advice to owners based on current scientific evidence is to just let cribbing horses crib, but at the same time see if you can alter their management in a way to reduce their overall stress," says Archer. "Turn them out as much as you can and keep forage in front of them. Don't hide them in the back of the barn because you think they'll teach all the horses to crib. There's no scientific evidence that this happens, and you'll just make them miserable in isolation and probably make the situation worse." - Equus 372/17 (Sept 08)

Things you can do to alleviate/stop cribbing:
- Evaluate your horse's diet; highly-concentrated diets, especially when fed in large and infrequent meals rather than in small portions over longer periods of time have been proven to induce and exacerbate cribbing
- Provide your horse with plenty of forage over a 24/7 period, preferably grass out on pasture! If grain is absolutely necessary, reduce the amount fed and/or spread it out over several feedings.
- Pasture horses in lieu of stalling them (yes, even those high-priced Warmbloods!!). If this is not possible, get your horse out as much as possible, preferably in daily turn-out. If you are able to pasture your horse, it is best to do so in a social situation (rather than in an individual paddock). A horse in a stall should be provided with some type of stimulation, whether it be via a Jolly ball, Likit, or other; ideally a horse should be able to see its herdmates in the barn.
- If cribbing continues to persist despite environmental and feeding changes, have your vet perform a gastric endoscopy. They tend to run (here in Calgary, Alberta) at a few hundred dollars and are the only definitive way to determine if your horse has ulcers.

*Debra Archer, BVMS, PhD


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