This is the second of a multi-part series outlining common equine behavior problems
Stereotypic is a term used to define behaviors that are repetitive, control a large part of the day and serve no purpose. Compulsive behaviors in horses can be divided into movement-related behaviors and oral behaviors. Control and poor management practices are the primary contributing factors. Horses that have more social interaction, consume a variety of roughage and feed two or more times daily are less likely to demonstrate these behaviors. Cribbing is an example of oral behavior, whereas pawing is an example of movement-related problems. If your horse demonstrates one behaviors, they are likely to exhibit another. Research shows that these types of behaviors are commonly seen in mares and 2-yr-old foals.
Cribbing (Aerophagia, Wind sucking)
Symptoms: grasping objects (i.e. water bucket) in stall with incisors, neck flexing, air sucking. May result in damaged incisors.
Possible Causes: Highly palatable foods (grains, molasses), lack of exercise, excessive confinement, GI discomfort
Treatment: turning confined horses to pasture, providing toys and stimulation, strapping around the horse's neck behind the poll or open-end muzzle, keeping stalls free of horizontal surfaces and objects that the horse can grasp
Symptoms: wood-chewing horse grabs and swallows pieces of wood. Wood chewing increases in cold, wet weather.
Possible Causes: the definitive cause of wood chewing is lack of roughage in the diet. Additionally, confinement, high-concentrate diets, and lack of exercise and stimulation increase incidence of wood chewing.
Treatment: provide more roughage, exercise, stimulation, toys, and social contact. Eliminate exposed wood and cover fence edges with wires and. Taste repellents can also help minimize wood chewing.
Symptoms: Ingestion of dirt and sand; however soil may include stones that create intestinal obstruction.
Possible Causes: Soil may be iron and copper rich, attracting ingestion.
Treatment: management should include increasing roughage and exercise and providing salt blocks and toys.
Symptoms: walking in circles in the stall, and when released continue to circle in a small area. Tying the horse to prevent walking will only transform the behavior into weaving, i.e., lifting the legs and shifting weight and head position from side to side in the same spot.
Possible Causes: lack of exercise, lack of social contact and claustrophobia. Stress and anxiety appear to aggravate the problem.
Treatment: increase exercise and stimulation, provide social contact, and turn the horse to pasture.
Possible Causes: boredom, aggression, frustration or anticipation (i.e. during food preparation). The horse may kick in anticipation when food is being prepared but is out of reach. Frustration may be a result of lack of exercise, need to mate or lack of social contact. Many horses that make holes also eat wood from these holes.
Treatment: should be directed toward eliminating the underlying cause; providing more social contact, exercise, and stimulation
Symptoms: shaking or jerking (usually up and down) head uncontrollably, without any apparent stimulus. May include snorting, rubbing their head on objects, and anxious expression. Note: exclude that the symptoms are not a result of seizures, GI disorders, pain, trauma, ear/eye disease, etc.
Possible Causes: improper bit, an incompetent rider, fear and anxiety, dressage leading to extreme cervical flexion, and compulsive disorders.
As we've said before, horses need companionship and management; they need the company of other horses and assistance from you. Keeping your horse from daily social interaction may result in developmental issues. Identify the problem and make the necessary adjustments. Your horse will thank you
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