Thoughts About Cribbing

New research may now have revealed a revolutionary solution to an age-old problem.
It has shown that wind sucking and crib biting may be the horse’s way of trying to relieve excess stomach acid often linked to prolonged stabling and lack of a natural feed pattern.

The value of young stock which crib bite and wind suck is drastically reduced, and both vices can contribute to problems in training and lack of performance in older horses.

Traditional aids used to break these behaviours include anti-crib collars and even surgery. However, the research by Foodmark senior nutritionist Clare MacLeod, MSc, Rnutr and vet Daniel Mills, BVS, MRCVS has shown that feeding supplementary acids may be the key to these stable vices, and is a much more humane and probably more effective way of discouraging

horses. The research has led to the development of an antacid, Feedmark Settelex, specifically for horses.

For the double-blind trial, 60 horses who demonstrated either vice, or both, were divided into three groups. One group had a single dose of antacid, another a double dose and the third a placebo. Collars and other inhibitors were removed before the trial and nothing was administered during the first week so that a normal “cribbing count” could be established for each horse.

The results indicated a nutritional breakthrough. After just one week, cribbing counts fell in the horses given antacids, particularly the double dose. Some animals stayed on the antacids long term and cribbing counts continued to fall. The study showed that neither age nor the length of time the horse had been cribbing affected either the severity of the problem or the effectiveness of the treatment.

The horse’s small stomach produces acid almost continuously, and normally this is neutralised by food and saliva, but long periods of not eating or a low forage diet produce excess acid. The horse only has protection against acid in the lower part of the stomach: the upper part is open to acid attack, and antacids “mop up” excess acid and help prevent this.

Excess acid and stomach ulcers have been linked to a huge range of symptoms ranging from poor appetite to chronic colic, a “sour” attitude and crib biting, which may be the horse’s attempt to neutralise excess acid by stimulating the production of saliva; the feeding of a specially formulated antacid gets to the root of the problem rather than simply treating the symptoms.

Additional Information

The ENPS meetings held in Michigan had some very interesting papers. Of great interest to horse owners were three papers; one on stomach pH & cribbing behavior in adult horses & two on the incidence of stomach ulcers, anti-acids in feed & cribbing in foals.
First paper by H.C.Lillie et al, at Auburn University, looked at the pH of the stomachs of horses that cribbed & also of horses that did not crib. Cribbers all had a more acidic stomach (lower pH), than the non-cribbers. There was greater variation in the pHs of the stomachs of cribbing horses which might be related to the amount of cribbing they did. The authors concluded that this supported the theory that horses crib to relieve their stomachs & GI tracts of irritation. It has been hypothesized that that cribbing causes production of more saliva, & as saliva is alkaline it can help off set the acidity.
Other two studies, looking at foals at various breeding farms in England, were done by A. Badnell-Waters et al, of Bristol University. In the first the condition of the foals stomach was strongly correlated to the onset & frequency of cribbing. The factors that affected the cribbing behavior were high intake of concentrate, being stalled & weaning alone. On endoscopic examination the foals that cribbed all had evidence of inflammation of the stomach walls and ulceration.
Non-cribbers showed no ulceration nor inflammation.
In second of the foal studies, they gave the
cribbing foals one of two diets, one that was a normal foal pellet & the others had the same
diet plus anti-acids. The foals that were given the anti-acid diet significantly reduced their cribbing behavior.
So the bottom line here is: If your horse cribs try adding anti-acids to his diet. You can do this by using one of the commercial anti-acids, TractGard,
U-Gard, or Neighlox. Or you can try adding calcium
carbonate (ground limestone) about 2 tablespoons per meal, or sodium bicarbonate about 2 tablespoons per meal. Neither bicarb nor limestone are particularly palatable so if the horse won’t eat them try one of the commercial anti-acids.
If you are breeding foals, make sure they don’t get too much concentrate feed & if you are feeding them concentrates add anti-acids to the meals.
Let me know if this helps your horse to stop cribbing


TractGard, U-Gard, or Neighlox. Or you can try adding calcium
Melyni Worth, Ph.D. PAS.
THOR Therapy Lasers, Information, Sales & Training.