Is Cribbing A Disease?

Q:I have a horse that is a cribber. To make both our lives easier, I've decided to create an area where he can crib safely and where he has access to hay and water. I took his cribbing collar off years ago and the colics stopped. The problem is I have people upset by this even though it is obvious he cribs less with this arrangement, and I don't have to worry about him injuring or poisoning himself or damaging property. They are also upset that I believe cribbing is not a disease--it's just what he does to be self-soothing when frustrated, bored, or stressed. May I have your opinion please?

Sophiea Bitel, via e-mail

A:Your opinion is in line with the current scientific understanding of cribbing. It is no longer considered helpful or humane to try to stop a horse from cribbing by using physical restraint devices such as cribbing straps or by using punishment techniques such as shock devices or electrified surfaces. This is based on the belief that the cribbing helps the horse cope with physical or psychological discomfort and that inhibiting it only adds to the stress. The current emphasis is on trying to find out and to address, if possible, what is bothering the horse. Have you had your horse examined for gastric ulcers? Gastric ulcers are often associated with cribbing, and if you treat them the cribbing might subside some. Ulcers might not be the initial cause of cribbing, but they could be coincidental or another result of physical or psychological stress.

I agree that sometimes the most difficult part of managing a cribber is finding a home where everyone agrees to leave him alone.

About the Author

Sue McDonnell, PhD, Certified AAB

Sue M. McDonnell, PhD, is a certified applied animal behaviorist and the founding head of the equine behavior program at the University of Pennsylvania's School of Veterinary Medicine. She is also the author of numerous books and articles about horse behavior and management.

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