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Ask the Vet

Published monthly in the Yankee Pedlar
Dr. Myhre Writing Ask the Vet

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In following with his passion for continuing equine education, Dr. Grant Myhre has agreed to answer one to two questions a month to be published in the Yankee Pedlar. Maybe your question (and answer) will be published in next month’s Yankee Pedlar! We will be publishing questions and answers here monthly, be sure to check back often. *Questions submitted for consideration become the property of Myhre Equine Clinic and are submitted with the understanding that questions may be circulated for publication.

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Question

My 8 year old Tennessee Walker has developed the irritating habit of cribbing. Can you tell me why this occurs and if there are any long-term negative side effects I should be concerned about?

Answer

Cribbing or Crib Biting is considered a behavioral stable vice. The horse will take hold of an animate object with their incisor teeth (front teeth) and by pressing down hard will arch their head and neck. They do this by contracting sternocephalicous and sternohyoideus muscles (ventral neck muscles).  This occurs in varying frequencies depending on the individual horse’s need and desire to crib.  Some horses are easily distracted and some horses seem to avoid all means instituted to prevent the cribbing.   Some horses will also "wind suck“, or swallow air during this cribbing.  This air can accumulate in the intestine and can cause abdominal pain or colic.  It is important to ascertain whether the horse is swallowing air and take needed precautions to stop the cribbing.  Usually a cribbing collar placed around the throat latch, and occasionally over the poll, will put pressure on the affected muscles thus making it uncomfortable for the horse to crib. These collars vary in form from a leather strap, to straps with metal projections to increase the severity of the prevention. Surgical intervention should be reserved for those horses that do not respond to the cribbing collars.  In 1929 Dr. Forssell described a technique in which the muscles that attached to the hyoid bone were excised, thus preventing air swallowing. Since that time modifications of Dr. Forssell’s technique have been described where less muscle has been excised, thus preventing any cosmetic damage. A neurectomy of the accessory spinal nerve has also been described and proven to be beneficial, however these modified techniques are not as efficacious as Forssell's technique.

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