Causal Relationship Between Cribbing and Colic Examined

Scientists have established the link between cribbing (also called windsucking) and colic, but a "causal" relationship between the two remains to be proven, say researchers from the University of California, Davis.

Colic is an important and often nerve-wracking event for horses and their owners. Cases can be mild or severe, and all too frequently, colic is fatal. Knowing what predisposes horses to colic is an essential part of preventing future episodes. Researchers previously reported an association between cribbing/windsucking and two different types of colic in 2002 and again in 2008.

To better define the link between colic and cribbing/windsucking, Rachel Malamed, DVM, and colleagues performed a retrospective study of horses admitted to the University’s veterinary medical teaching hospital for colic between January 2006 and December 2008. Owners of these horses were then sent questionnaires to obtain information about their horse's behavior traits and repetitive behaviors.

Key findings were:

  • A positive association between cribbing/windsucking and colic existed but was not associated with any particular category or severity of colic;
  • No other repetitive behavior was associated with colic;
  • Age was significantly associated with colic; however,
  • Horses with an "anxious temperament" were not more likely to colic.

"These findings suggest that crib-biting does mean a horse has a higher risk of colicking than horses who do not exhibit this behavior, but the type or severity of colic cannot be predicted," relayed Malamed.

The research team added that these results do not mean that cribbing causes colic.

"A causal relationship between cribbing and colic needs to be established in order to develop effective and humane strategies to treat the behavior, improve equine welfare, and reduce the risk of colic," concluded Malamed.

The study, "Retrospective evaluation of crib-biting and windsucking behaviours and owner-perceived behavioural traits as risk factors for colic in horses," is scheduled to be published in an upcoming edition of the Equine Veterinary Journal. The abstract is currently available online.

Disclaimer: Seek the advice of a qualified veterinarian before proceeding with any diagnosis, treatment, or therapy.