Cribbing in Horses
The basis of treatment for any stereotypic behavior begins with trying to find the cause. If you and your veterinarian believe that your horse’s cribbing is due to boredom, the treatment will be to find ways to add mental and physical stimulation to your horse’s daily routine. This usually includes increasing the amount of time the horse spends in the pasture. If this is not an option, providing more roughage in the horse’s diet may also help. Giving your horse toys to play with will also help provide mental stimulation. If your horse is alone, purchasing a companion such as a goat may also help. Increasing the amount of time you spend riding and grooming your horse is also important.
If you find that your horse’s cribbing is due to anxiety, you may want to take a closer look at your horse’s routine. Some horses can become anxious when they are bored. Other horses crib out of frustration or to vent excess energy.
Other than environmental modification, there are physical means to help prevent this behavior. A piece of equipment called a cribbing strap is sometimes used. This is an adjustable strap that is secured around the horse’s throat behind his ears and jaw line. This strap prevents the horse from flexing his neck muscles as he pulls back to gulp air during the act of cribbing. This strap does not prevent the horse from eating or drinking and is not painful when the horse is not cribbing. On some horses, use of this strap is beneficial in preventing this behavior. However, it doesn’t work on all cribbers.
There are also surgical ways to prevent this behavior, although these are rarely used. These surgeries involve scarring the throat muscles so that the horse cannot flex them in the act of cribbing. This is often viewed as an extreme way of preventing this behavior, as it is often cost prohibitive since it requires general anesthesia and a visit to a specialty equine surgical facility.
Cribbing is a learned, obsessive-compulsive behavioral disorder, and can be difficult, if not impossible, to break permanently. Research has shown that cribbing results in the release of endorphins, which make the horse, feel good. To that end, horses in a way become addicted to this behavior. Even if you are able to discourage your horse from this behavior for a short period of time, the horse will, more than likely, return to the behavior once the preventive technique is removed.
Living and Management
Keeping your horse stabled too long is often what leads to this type of vice in the first place. As with many behavioral problems in domestic horses, the closer you can keep your horse in an environment that mimics a horse’s natural environment (i.e. one with plenty of access to large pastures and constant forage), the less likely the horse is to develop this condition. Whether it is from boredom, lack of nutrition, or anything else, cribbing is challenging to prevent once your horse has gotten into the habit of it. The best you can do is to give your horse enough activity to relieve it from boredom and use healthy, preventive techniques.
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