Cribbing and Colic in Horses: What’s the Link?

After years of speculating that colic occurs more frequently in horses that crib, researchers have finally provided consistent data confirming this association.

Cribbing and Colic: What
Consequences of cribbing include not only colic but also dental wear and damabe to barn surfaces. | Photo: The Horse Staff

The latest on the unlikely relationship between brain, behavior, and belly

Researchers estimate that 2-10% of all horses crib. This stereotypy (defined as a relatively unchanging, repetitive pattern of behavior with no apparent goal or function) involves grasping an object with the incisors, flexing the muscles on the underside of the neck, and drawing air into the upper esophagus, usually while emitting a characteristic grunt, says Sabrina Briefer Freymond, PhD, a researcher at the Agroscope Swiss National Stud Farm, in Avenches.

As a behavioral biologist, Briefer Freymond investigates equine stress physiology and the personality and learning capacity of cribbers, striving to better understand this behavior and its effect on horse welfare.

While some undesirable aspects of cribbing (also called crib-biting) are obvious—such as damage to the surface the horse grips—other effects might be less clear. For example, horses that crib might be at an increased risk of suffering certain types of

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Written by:

Stacey Oke, MSc, DVM, is a practicing veterinarian and freelance medical writer and editor. She is interested in both large and small animals, as well as complementary and alternative medicine. Since 2005, she’s worked as a research consultant for nutritional supplement companies, assisted physicians and veterinarians in publishing research articles and textbooks, and written for a number of educational magazines and websites.

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