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How to Help Manage Cribbing Through Diet

Crib bite , biting

Are you trying to manage a crib-biter or wind-sucker? Understanding stereotypies and considering implementing the following will help…

• Limit starchy feed such as course mix and grains

• Turnout as much as possible

• Offer ad-lib forage at all times (soak if you need to reduce energy content)

• Don’t use collars

• Feed an antacid

• Turnout with companions

• Monitor and manage foals from birth

Here’s why.

Oral stereotypies and wood-chewing may be attempts by horses to cope with acidic guts, as a result of high concentrate diets. Feeding antacids and a high fibre, low starch diet can help reduce crib-biting and wind-sucking in some horses. Recent research has shown that although cribbing horses do produce saliva, their stomachs become more acidic during cribbing. This increased acidity probably results from the response of the stomach to an impending meal, indicated by the saliva production.

CribbingCrib-biting and wind-sucking are thought to be activities that become remote from their original cause, which means they persist even after the horse’s management is changed and foraging needs are fulfilled. Some horses will crib-bite or wind-suck less when turned out, but others will not. Controlling wood-chewing, cribbing and wind-sucking is challenging however, the first steps must be to reduce the starch content of the diet, preferably to zero, and increase fibre supply. Horses should be allowed ad-lib access to forage, with the nutrient quality of the forage selected carefully, according to the needs of the horse. Working or breeding horses with higher nutrient requirements should be fed good quality forage such as haylage, and moderate to high energy fibre-based feeds including quick-dried grass or alfalfa, sugar beet and highly digestible fibre compounds. Oil should be added if extra energy is required, and maximum amounts can be fed. Grain, course mixes and other starchy feeds should be avoided.

Grumpy Girth

Antacids might help support improvement

Antacids can be added to the diet but should not be used to counteract starchy meals. Some horses respond to antacids with a reduction in cribbing, but the response varies in individual horses. Ideally, affected horses should be turned out as much as possible and allowed contact with other horses. There is no evidence that oral stereotypies can be copied by one horse to another. If more than one horse on a yard starts cribbing, it is likely rooted in the management of that yard, which increases the likelihood of any susceptible horse to begin.

Crib-biting and wind-sucking have traditionally been controlled with the use of collars that physically prevent the neck arching in a way necessary for the behaviour. These are inhumane, because affected horses have a very high motivation to crib-bite or wind-suck, and will do so more after the collar is removed. Preventing a highly motivated behaviour causes frustration and compromises welfare.

Cribbing has been associated with some forms of colic, and many owners wish to prevent their horses from cribbing in the belief it will reduce the likelihood of colic. This is unproven, and it is more likely to be the lack of forage and/or time spent cribbing and not eating that increases the risk of colic in cribbers, rather than the cribbing itself.

Encouraging a cribber to eat forage, especially by turning out to pasture is recommended.

Why some horses crib-bite or wind-suck and others in the same situation do not is still not fully understood. Research studies following foals from birth have shown that those who spent more time suckling were more likely to develop abnormal behaviour. Professor Christine Nicol at the University of Bristol suggests that these foals may have spent more time suckling because they already had stomach problems, or they were hungrier, perhaps because their dams produced less milk. Hungrier foals are more likely to eat concentrate feed, which may predispose them to cribbing. It is evident that right from birth attention should be paid to ensuring a high-fibre, relatively low-concentrate diet with the provision of an environment that allows the foal or horse to exhibit normal behaviour.


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The article above has been written including excerpts from ReadySupp’s consultant nutritionist Clare MacLeod’s (MSC RNutr) book ‘The Truth About Feeding Your Horse’ – which you can purchase online at

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Posted in Digestion, Equine Nutrition, General, Horse Feed
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