Cribbing can be a tough habit to break

By Heather Hilbrands, DVM Casselton Veterinary Service Inc., Casselton, N.D.

Walking through a horse barn one winter, far off in the distance, I heard a faint honking/grunting sound over and over again. It was an elusive call, beckoning me to find the weird yet distinct noise. Each corner I turned, I could hear it but couldn’t find the culprit. Finally, on the furthest side of the barn, last stall, was Mr. Joe Dingle, the Thoroughbred.

He was tall, nicely muscled, and quite majestic. He had his front teeth lodged on the wooden gate, mouth wide open forcefully grunting and sucking in air as he pulled back on the gate with his mouth. He did this behavior precisely and repetitively like he didn’t think it was abnormal.

He didn’t mind me watching, either. Mr. Joe Dingle was a cribber.

Cribbing is a negative behavior in horses that involves the horse placing its upper incisors (front teeth) on a solid surface (fence, post, gate), pressing down on the surface with its teeth, arching its neck and pulling back grunting and gulping in air through its mouth. This behavior can cause the horse’s teeth to wear prematurely, cause the teeth to be misaligned and be so time-consuming and obsessive that the horse doesn’t eat or drink normally.

Cribbing has no definite cause. This behavior is seen more commonly in horses that are stabled and horses with a more nervous or excitable temperament. Horses that are cribbing could benefit from increased activity and exercise and an increased amount of forage/hay in the diet.

Specific devices like throat latches are not recommended to use to curb this behavior due to the potential for injury to the horse. Getting a horse to stop this negative behavior can feel like you are banging your head against the wall. Sometimes, despite multiple attempts to remedy the behavior, the horse persists with cribbing. Identifying the behavior quickly has the best chance for success.

Dr. Heather Hilbrands, DVM, grew up in Milbank, S.D., and received an animal sciene degree from South Dakota State University. She graduated from veterinary school at Iowa State University in 2006. She practiced large and small animal veterinary medicine in South Dakota prior to coming to North Dakota. She now practices at Casselton Veterinary Service, Inc. in Casselton, N.D.