What Does ‘Licking and Chewing’ in Horses Mean?

What does “licking and chewing” really mean?
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What Does Licking and Chewing in Horses Mean
Licking and chewing behavior reflects an autonomic nervous tone change, such as from pain, fear, or confusion to an ordinary maintenance activity. | Photo: iStock

Q.What does “licking and chewing” in horses really mean? Submission? Processing? Relaxing?

—Lisa, California

A.Licking and chewing behavior is probably one of the most misunderstood horse behaviors. It simply reflects a change in autonomic nervous system tone that results in salivation that stimulates licking, chewing, and sometimes a big swallow. And that can happen in a number of situations following a threat or disturbance of some sort

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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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