Horse Side Vet Guide ®

Equine Health Resource

Cribbing or Wind-Sucking

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Code Yellow - Contact Your Vet at Your Convenience for an Appointment

  • You are interested in pursuing treatment for the behavior.

Code Green - Contact Your Vet to Obtain Useful Advice & Resources

  • Some vets have valuable advice regarding behavioral and training issues.

Cribbing occurs when a horse grabs a stationary object such as a stall door or railing with its nipping teeth (incisors), arches and tenses its neck and makes a grunting or groaning sound as it pulls air into its esophagus. Wind-sucking is similar but does not require the use of a stationary object.

Both cribbing and wind-sucking are stereotypical behaviors and are common in stalled, domestic horses. A stereotypical behavior is defined as a repetitive movement or behavior with no obvious function for the animal that is caused by frustration, stress or brain dysfunction.

Cribbing and wind sucking are generally not that harmful to a horse, although cribbing does cause excessive wear and damage to the front (incisor teeth), not to mention damage to facilities, fences and equipment.

Occasionally, a horse will crib as a response to abdominal pain (colic). A sudden onset of this behavior could be a sign of an underlying condition causing pain.

Horses that crib also tend to experience colic more than non-cribbers. This may not relate to cribbing itself, but to these environmental deficiencies that favors the development of both colic and cribbing. Recently, cribbing and wind-sucking have been associated with a particular condition causing colic, small intestinal entrapment in the epiploic foramen.

Unfortunately, these behaviors are easier to prevent than eliminate once they become established. If your horse has started cribbing, immediately try changing their environment and management. Provide long stem grass hay in large quantities. Provide increased and consistent exercise, and maximize contact and turnout with other horses. A cribbing collar may or may not help. Electric collars can be helpful, but disastrous if misused.

If the problem is extreme or ongoing despite your efforts contact your vet. They will likely assess your management, and perform a physical exam to rule out underlying causes. There are a variety of veterinary treatments, including medications, acupuncture, and surgery, all of which may be helpful. However, the key is trying to improve quality of life through management and environmental changes.

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP


McGreevy P. Equine Behavior, A Guide for Veterinarians & Equine Scientists. Edinburgh: Saunders, 2004.


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