Crib biting and chewing are undesirable behaviours which affect the horses health as it causes damage to teeth and increases risk of colic.
Unwanted biting or chewing in horses includes crib-biting, wood chewing, mane and tail chewing, as well as rug or bandage chewing. Although all are distinct in nature they are destructive in their own way either to stable furniture, horse condition or horse value. Once these unwanted behaviours begin they can be hard to break and horse owners require commitment and patience in trying to eliminate or control these behaviours.
Crib-biting (“cribbing”) is perhaps the most serious of these unwanted biting behaviours, as it is considered a serious stable vice and often accompanied by wind-sucking. A crib-biter grasps a solid object (for example: top of stable door) with their incisor teeth, tenses and arches their neck and gulps air with a distinctive noise. This stereotypic behaviour is repeated often throughout the day.
Crib-biting most commonly occurs in stabled-horses with up to 1 in 10 thoroughbreds affected. It is associated with long periods of stabling, low pasture turnout, low forage feeding and apparent horse boredom.
Once established as a vice, crib-biting is difficult to eliminate. Over time it leads to abnormal wear of incisor teeth, predisposes to colic and is associated with increased incidence of stomach ulcers. Crib-biting also leads to damage of surfaces that the horse grasps.
A variety of techniques can be used to help deal with crib-biting.
• Increase pasture turnout and forage availability
• Stable enrichment (for example, using stable balls or mirrors)
• Vice-breaker neck collars
• Coating favoured cribbing surfaces with a distasteful deterrent substance to stop the initial grasping behaviour.
A less serious behaviour which can be mistaken for crib-biting is wood chewing, while this is an undesirable behaviour in a horse, it is not considered a stable vice. A horse that wood chews bites onto or tears out, pieces of wooden doors, railings, posts etc. Once again this is most commonly seen in stabled horses, but can occur in horses in pasture.
Wood chewing can be due to pica, where a horse has unnatural dietary cravings due to mineral imbalances. Other possible causes include boredom, lack of forage to satisfy chewing need, lack of exercise or internal parasites. Wood chewing can lead to wear of incisor teeth or ingestion of foreign objects, which can lead to impaction colic.
Wood chewing can be reduced by;
• Feeding a complete balanced diet
• Increasing forage availability
• Increasing turn out time
• Erecting an electric fence barrier to wooden railings
• Coating the wooden stable or paddock furniture with a distasteful deterrent substance to stop biting or chewing
• Capsaicin is the chemical compound in chilli peppers which makes them taste hot. The higher the levels of capsaicin in a chilli pepper the hotter it tastes. Because of this it is included in Crib-Halt as an extremely distasteful natural substance, which horses do not become accustomed to
• Capsaicin is banned for use in competition horses because it has some pain relieving properties. Foran Equine has developed an equally distasteful capsaicin free product which is safe to use in competing and racing horses.
Mane and Tail Biting
Unlike either crib-biting or wood chewing the main observed problem with mane and tail biting is not the offending horse, but a shortened, chewed mane or tail. Mane and tail biting is most common in foals and yearlings and may be due to a mineral imbalance causing pica.
Mane and tail biting can lead to excessive hair ingestion resulting in trichobezors (hair balls) which can cause impaction colic.
Mane and tail biting can be resolved by:
• Separating from the herd for a month. This is not always possible with foals or young horses.
• Coating of manes and tails with a distasteful deterrent substance to stop biting or chewing such as No Bite can help eliminated the biting and restore the mane and tail condition.
• Feeding a complete balanced diet
Horses will often chew or pull at rugs or bandages once applied, this can cause both damage the rugs or bandages and wound contamination. Cases of rug or bandage chewing can improve by coating the items with a distasteful deterrent substance to stop biting or chewing such as No Bite.