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Tanja Dietz

Tanja Dietz

Why do horses crib bit when they suffer from gastric ulcers?

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A frequently observed sign of stomach ulcers is crip biting.  Crip biting is described as a behavioral disorder of the horse, which, like weaving, is one of the stereotypes. When crip biting, the horses usually place their incisors on a horizontal object, such as a manger, box wall or pasture fence, and swallow air. This causes the lower neck muscles to contract, opening the horse's pharynx - the typical crip biting tone is produced. Rather rarely do horses crip bit freely, i.e. without touching an object. When crip biting, the horses nod their head in the direction of the chest when the neck muscles contract and then swing it forward again in a quick movement. 

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Why do some horses crib bit when they have an ulcer?
There are different approaches as to why horses suffering from gastric ulcers crip bit. Stomach ulcers are often caused by stress and the associated production of excess gastric acid, which cannot be completely buffered and thus attacks the gastric mucosa.

One approach is that stomach patients crip bit to relieve stress. By crip biting, the body's own opiates are released, which have a calming effect on the horse in stressful situations. Studies have shown that the horse's heart rate decreases when crip biting.

The other approach is that horses try by crip biting themselves to produce more saliva to buffer the stomach acid. Researchers have found that the parotid gland is stimulated by muscle contraction during coupling and thus produces more saliva. Since stomach ulcers are caused by a too low pH value in the stomach, the horse tries to buffer the excess acid in the stomach by crip biting, thus increasing the stomach pH and alleviating the stomach pain.

Should I stop my horse from crip biting or try to break the habit?
Both questions have to be answered with a clear no, because horses always have a reason for a behavioral disorder. For example, if you put electric wire on horizontal objects, lubricate them with bitter pastes or put a chopper belt on the horse, you fight the crip biting symptom, but at the same time make sure that the horse can no longer satisfy its need, which leads to frustration and thus to even more stress.

Since crip biting neither harms the horse nor leads to other horses seeing this behavioral disorder, there is no reason to prevent the horse from crip biting, because this could lead to other behavioral disorders into which the horse then escapes when it can no longer meet its need. It is much more important to find and eliminate the causes that have caused the stomach problems and thus the crip biting.

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