Cribbing Part II: Does cribbing cause health problems?

Cribbing is a behavior that horses seem to adopt to deal with stress or anxiety.
Cribbing is a behavior that horses seem to adopt to deal with stress or anxiety.

Tuesday’s article covered some of the theories on why horses crib. Today I’m going to talk about some of the health problems associated with cribbing. Here are three statements from three different people on a recent forum post about cribbing. These folks articulate pretty well the fears that people have about owning a cribber.

“Been there done that and I had to give the mare away after spending hundreds (perhaps thousands! I didn’t add up the losses) in trying to get her in good health, weight and condition. Then in trying to get the damn horse to EAT! Yup, she’d crib instead of eating.”

“I personally did fret over my cribber. I was told his cribbing caused his colics and his colics were going to kill him. I fretted muchly for many years. One reason I would never have another cribber is to avoid the frettingness.”

“my beautiful wood fences..are being replaced – had to send that one down the road. He drove me NUTZ because he would rather crib than eat, would crib on the buckets, literally anything that didn’t move. He was also prone to colic . . .”

In a nutshell people worry about:

Horses colicing. It is widely believed that colic from cribbing is caused by the ingestion of air which, in turn, causes gas distention in the intestinal tract. It turns out that is not actually true. According to Katherine A. Houpt, VMD, PhD, Dipl ACVB, director of the Cornell’s Animal Behavior Clinic,  “Little of the air is swallowed, and few horses actually develop colic, but owners dislike cribbing because of the damage it causes to fences and buckets when the horse pulls them.” McGreevey and Nichols et al found the same results in 1995.

There is a specific type of colic that cribbers get more frequently, but that is colic due to the entrapment of the small intestine in the epiploic foramen (an internal hernia). When this happens the blood supply is occluded and the only treatment is surgery. However the relationship between gas colic and cribbing is still not well understood. While it appears that horses that crib do often colic, there is no compelling evidence that gas colics are caused by cribbing; the

The worn down teeth of a cribber
The worn down teeth of a cribber

Teeth problems: Horses that crib compulsively can wear down their front teeth to the point where they become nubs which can make it difficult for them to graze. Horses that are mild cribbers probably won’t experience that much wear or it will take much longer.

Loss of Weight: Some cribbers have difficulty holding a good weight. It was thought that cribbing horses didn’t eat because they filled their stomachs with air (disproved above). Some horses simply prefer cribbing over eating! There is also some indication that horses that crib also have problems with effectively digesting their food (may/may not be caused by the cribbing or simply could be a co-existing behavior) so that they are just metabolically hard keepers.

Overdeveloped Neck Muscles: Because of the way a horse arches its neck to crib it can over develop the muscles on the underside of its neck which many people find to be unattractive.

Once a horse is an established cribber (much research shows that most cribbers start when weaned) it’s almost impossible to get them to stop entirely. However, there are ways to prevent horses from cribbing. I’ll take a look at those next.

7 thoughts on “Cribbing Part II: Does cribbing cause health problems?

  1. I owned a cribber for 18 year’s, fantastic horse with many success BD, BSJA and BE. I didn’t try to prevent his cribbing in fact I provided him with towels to crib on. This horse did however colic mildly 2 – 3 times a year only ever needing a shot of Buscapan to see him right.
    I passed JJ onto a riding club home as he stills loves his shows and continues to give a lot of happiness and success to his new owner.
    I replaced him with a very talented four year old who as it happens also cribbs. This horse was joint winner of the BSJA four year old championship and is the most phnominal jumping horse I have ever had the joy of owning. Since I’ve owner her she too has had 3 bouts of colic in just over a year, very similar to my other horses colic, mild and cured by an injection of Buscapan. Interesting, is cribbing a contributing factor to some types of colic? Would I buy another cribber? I would prefer not, but if the horse was exceptional I wouldn’t not.

  2. Has anyone noticed repeat colic at a particular time of year? My horse has had gassey colic in Autumn when the weather changes 1-2 times this year and once last year when I just got him.

Leave a Reply