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We’ve all seen these horses. They latch on to feeder with their front teeth and suck in air. They grab onto gates, poles, fence posts and just about anything else. They arch their neck and then suck in a huge gulp of air. Many people disregard this, but this simple vice can lead to major internal complications.
This behavior is essentially obsessive-compulsive behavior in horses. This vice is completely different from just chewing on wood. This horse is getting an endorphin rush from sucking in air, it’s almost as if they are trying to get a “fix.” Several issues can develop in horses that crib, so many that many equine insurance companies will not insure cribbers. The horse wears down his front teeth from grabbing onto stationary objects, usually metal objects. They then suck in air that leads to digestion problems and possibly gas problems. They are more prone to colic then normal horses because of the amount of air that they suck in on a regular basis.
There may be several causes that cause this type of behavior in horses. It’s been thought that they do it because they are bored or only, but this not necessarily true. There are several cribbers who have plenty of pasture and other equine friends and they still will suck air every chance they get. Many believe that improper diet and feeding practices are to blame as well, but yet again you will find horses who are fed the correct rations, the same time everyday and who have plenty of pasture time and they still crib.
So how do we stop this behavior? Many people begin by trying to reduce the horse’s stress level and keeping them occupied. They turn them out in lush green pastures with other horses. For some horses this will work, for others it does not. These are usually the most extreme cribbers, the ones you see sucking on gates and fence posts.
The next step that most people take is to purchase a cribbing collar. There are two versions of these, but the most successful version is the Miracle Collar. These are fitted around the horse’s neck and provide pressure around the neck. The unique shape of the collar prevents the horse from using the muscles he needs to suck in the air. Some horses will still attempt to do the behavior with the collar on.
The next and most expensive method used to stop cribbing is surgery. This surgery removes a section of muscle that will help stop the action. Here you are not treating the cause of the behavior but you are stopping the behavior, which in turn is better on the horse’s teeth and digestive system.
Another option is drug therapy. Drugs, such as Naloxene, are used to reduce to reduce the level of stress in the horse. Many anti-depressants have been used as well, but most drugs only seem to have a temporary effect.
Most owners stop at the cribbing collars and they do their best to keep the horse healthy and happy. Until more research is done on better medications, this is really all you can do and hope that your horse doesn’t have a bad colic case.
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