Horse Side Vet Guide ®

Equine Health Resource

Wood Chewing or Eating

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

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

  • To discuss your equine's general health and management.

It is natural for horses to browse, chew on tree bark and branches. However, in domestic stalled horses, wood chewing is considered an undesirable (stereotypical) behavior.

Wood chewing is a completely different behavior than cribbing. Wood chewing is actually the consumption of wood, whereas cribbing is strictly a behavior where a horse bites down on a solid object without ingesting any material.

Wood chewing may be dietary in origin, as horses eating low fiber (roughage) diets tend to chew wood more often. Horses on very green lush pasture may chew bark more than on other pasture types. This may be due to reduced roughage content in that pasture. Wood chewing may also be a result of management. Like cribbing, wood chewing is more common in horses that are provided with limited exercise and turnout, high grain diets and limited roughage.

Horses generally tolerate some consumption of some wood without it causing them health problems. However, some trees, wood types, and wood stains and paints can be toxic to horses. Excessive intake of chewed wood can result in intestinal impaction and abdominal pain (colic).

WHAT TO DO

Try to solve this problem with improvements or changes in husbandry. Provide long stem grass hay in larger quantities. Feed more frequently, provide consistent exercise, and maximize turnout with other horses. Use metal panels, use chew-stop formulas and make other management changes to prevent destruction of your wooden facilities. You can protect wood ledge and corners by installing angle iron or other metal edging. Cribbing collars will not prevent wood chewing.

If your horse is showing any sign of illness or abnormalities, contact your vet to discuss your findings and concerns.

WHAT YOUR VET DOES

Your vet considers the fact that your horse is a wood chewer as they consider what may be wrong with them. Beyond that, they may give you suggestions for management to minimize this behavior.

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP

RELATED REFERENCES

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

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