Pet Columns, Office of Public Engagement, College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Cribbing Increases Risk for Unique Type of Colic

Pet Column for the week of March 22, 2004

Office of Public Engagement
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
Phone: 217/333-2907
Ann Marie Falk
Information Specialist

A variety of "stable vices" exhibited by horses drive horse owners to distraction! These vices are often called "diseases of domestication" and are also seen in domestic livestock. One common stable vice is cribbing, and it may be more of a danger than once thought.

"Cribbing is a behavior seen in up to 10 percent of horses, making it a fairly common sight on equine farms. When a horse cribs, it grasps a surface with its incisors, flexes its neck in an arch, and draws air into the esophagus with an audible grunt," explains Dr. Aimie Doyle, an equine veterinarian at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Urbana.

Common surfaces involved in cribbing are stable doors and fence posts--anything at sternum height. Cribbing is a concern for horse owners for several reasons. This behavior can lead to excessive wear or chipping of teeth. Nibbling on wood can cause splinters in the horse's mouth. Owners also fear that other horses will copycat this vice.

The environmental damage is another annoyance resulting from a cribber. No one wants large chunks missing from barn doors or fences.

"Anecdotal reports that cribbing leads to flatulent colic and dental problems have always existed. Recently reports in the literature have associated cribbing with gastric ulcers and equine motor neuron disease. Since cribbing and colic have historically been linked, we conducted a study attempting to show whether cribbers are more at risk for certain types of surgical colic," says Dr. Doyle.

Veterinarians at the University of Illinois noted that horses that were recovering from colic surgery due to entrapment of the small intestine in the epiploic foramen cribbed more than horses suffering from other forms of surgical colic.

"The data from the retrospective study were significant. Horses that crib are more at risk for entrapment of the small intestine in the epiploic foramen than horses that do not exhibit this stable vice. This does not mean that cribbers are more at risk for all types of colic. With this information horse owners and veterinarians can identify horses that are at risk for this type of colic. This can potentially aid in diagnosing and treating horses with surgical colic," comments Dr. Doyle.

There are several methods of dealing with a cribber. One is to use a comforter. A comforter is a substance that covers an area the horse is likely to crib. Rubber is often used as it will not damage a horses teeth and will not wear itself. This is most effective if placed at sternum level in an area near where the horse is fed. This is not directed at correcting the behavior but minimizing the negative effects.

Another device is an anti-cribbing collar. This is a leather strap that goes around the horse's neck with a Y-shaped metal plate covering the bottom of the neck. It constricts the lower neck muscles when the horse tries to crib, attempting to deter the horse from this behavior.

Surgery can be done to stop this behavior. It may not be effective as a long-term solution. These methods of preventing cribbing may stop the behavior but do not correct the underlying problem. Changing the horse's environment is a better way to combat cribbing and other stable vices.

For more information about cribbing, contact your local veterinarian.