Last Updated on February 19, 2022 by Allison Price
Q “My horse has been a cribber for a long time and I cannot get him to stop. A cribbing collar would make him feel uncomfortable. Is there any other way to stop him cribbing than a collar? Is it okay to let him crib?
KATHERINE HOOP, VMD. PhD, DACVB, weighs-in on the subject
Cribbing collars can be uncomfortable for horses, especially if they are used with a headstall. You should weigh the risks and comfort of cribbing collars on your horse before deciding if it is worth it. 15 years ago, I may have said “Let him crib.” But now, we know that cribbing can be a risk factor in colic. This is especially true for epiploic foramen Entrapment, which requires surgery and has low recovery rates.
Horses aspirate air from their esophagus when they crib. The air will eventually diffuse from his mouth if he doesn’t eat for several minutes. If he eats, however, the food will force the air down his stomach and into his stomach. He might do this several times a day, trapping large amounts of air in his intestines. The intestines can move and almost float in the abdomen. This can lead to intestines getting stuck, particularly in the epiploicforamen, which is a narrow passage that connects two areas of the abdomen.
Cribbing can’t be stopped completely, but you can change your management techniques to reduce the frequency. Only horses that have recently started cribbing have I been able to stop it completely. It is possible to make a change in your diet, especially if you eliminate sweet feed. The horse will crib due to the opiates released by the sugary taste. Plain oats, which have lower sugar levels, are less likely to cause cribbing when combined with hay. Horses who do not exercise regularly can eat plain oats and hay. Your horse may need more calories if he is not exercising regularly.
If your horse is just starting cribbing, it may be possible to keep him outside. It can also reduce the frequency of cribbing if you have an established habit. The amount of time your horse spends outside eating grass and hay seems to correlate with less cribbing.
The straps or anti-cribbing collars prevent the horse from flexing its neck. Although he can still grab onto a horizontal surface and flex his neck, he cannot suck air into the esophagus if he is unable to do so. These collars fit snugly around the horse’s neck and poll. They are just below his jaw. Cribbing collars can be very effective and do not cause stress. This is evident because horses’ blood cortisol levels don’t rise when they wear cribbing collars. However, they must be tight enough to be effective. They can also cause skin abrasions. If you do use one, make sure to check the area for any signs of irritation.
Another option is a cribbing mozzle. Cribbing muzzles look similar to grazing muzzles but have metal bars that run across the bottom. This allows the horse to eat and drink while preventing him from biting on a horizontal surface. Although they don’t cause discomfort, these muzzles seem to be more irritating to horses than cribbing collars.
Sprays that are unpleasant-tasting and applied to horse cribs seldom work. Horses don’t actually taste the horizontal surface that they crib on, but they do rest their incisors upon it. The application of a noxious substance is usually ineffective. It will, however, reduce wood chewing.
The big question is why a horse would start cribbing? Although there is a genetic component, the exact gene responsible for it has not yet been discovered. The most common stimulus is a change in diet, particularly from grass to grain. Your best option to reduce your horse’s cribbing is to feed him a lower-sugar (or even less) grain, less stall time, and more pasture time. A cribbing collar is recommended for horses who have had gas colic.
Dr. Katherine Houpt graduated from the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. Katherine Houpt received her doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine and was board-certified in veterinary behaviour. She is currently an equine behaviorist at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York. She is interested in domestic animal welfare, the physiological basis of equine ingestion and maternal behavior. Dr. Houpt is passionate about improving horse welfare when horses are used for sport or recreation. She has published many papers on this topic.