Cribbing and Colic

Cribbing, the oral stereotypic behavior in which the horse grabs an object with his teeth while flexing his neck and sometimes swallowing air, has long been suspected as a cause of colic. A study from the Universities of Illinois and Liverpool suggests that cribbing increases the risk for entrapment of the small intestine in the epiploic foramen (the passage between the liver and the pancreas). So if a colicky horse also cribs, a veterinarian should know that this type of colic is more likely when trying to pinpoint the cause of the colic, said Aimie Doyle, DVM, of the University of Illinois, during the 2003 American Association of Equine Practitioners convention.

This retrospective study looked at records of horses undergoing exploratory colic surgery at the Universities of Illinois and Liverpool over an eight- to 10-year period. The rate of cribbing behavior before surgery in horses with epiploic foramen entrapment was compared with that of horses with other causes of surgical colic. It was found that 54.4% of the horses with colic caused by epiploic foramen entrapment had a history of cribbing, while only 10.2% of the horses with other types of colic had a history of cribbing. Previous reports indicate that the general population of horses has a colic incidence of 5.5-10.5%.

"Cribbing horses undergoing exploratory celiotomy (abdominal surgery) for colic in both university groups combined were 10.45 times more likely to have epiploic foramen entrapment than were non-cribbing horses," Doyle said.

"The predisposition of cribbing horses to epiploic foramen entrapment could possibly be explained by the creation of a change in intra-abdominal pressure and the expansion of the passageway to the epiploic foramen with elevation of the rib cage during cribbing," she continued. "Aerophagia (swallowing of air) could also contribute to the development of the lesion by allowing a gas-filled jejunum (part of the small intestine) to rise dorsally (upward) in the abdomen toward the epiploic foramen. Alternatively, cribbing and entrapment of the small intestine in the epiploic foramen could share predisposing causes rather than be directly related."

The take-home message for horse owners: The horse owner should provide the veterinarian with a complete history of the colicky horse, including whether the horse is a cribber. This could help the veterinarian come to a more specific diagnosis and allow for better decisions regarding prognosis and treatment.

About the Author

Sarah Evers Conrad

Sarah Evers Conrad has a bachelor’s of arts in journalism and equine science from Western Kentucky University. As a lifelong horse lover and equestrian, Conrad started her career at The Horse: Your Guide to Equine Health Care magazine. She has also worked for the United States Equestrian Federation as the managing editor of Equestrian magazine and director of e-communications and served as content manager/travel writer for a Caribbean travel agency. When she isn’t freelancing, Conrad spends her free time enjoying her family, reading, practicing photography, traveling, crocheting, and being around animals in her Lexington, Kentucky, home.

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