Why does my horse chew wood?
As a horse owner, do you ever find it frustrating when field fencing is gnawed? Or are you fed up with the dental damage done to your horse’s stable door?
The impacts of horses chewing wood can be costly:
- Dental problems – your horse might wear down their teeth through chewing wood, which can result in a whole host of other health issues.
- Colic – some horses who develop the habit of chewing wood are at greater risk of health concerns like colic.
- Ulcers – there’s debate as to whether behaviours like wood-chewing, windsucking, and crib-biting are a symptom or one of the causes of gastric ulcers; either way, wood-chewing is linked to ulcers in horses.
- Weight loss – if wood-chewing becomes a big part of their day, your horse may choose to chew wood instead of eating their hay.
- Damaged stables and fencing – it’s expensive to replace wooden stable doors and fence posts.
We look at why your equine friend might be chewing wood, how to stop them and how to prevent your horse from doing it in the first place.
Differences between wood-chewing, windsucking and crib-biting
Vets differentiate between chewing wood, crib-biting, and windsucking.
Perhaps one of the most common complaints among horse owners, wood-chewing behaviour in horses describes the persistent chewing of stable doors and fences.
However, it’s important to note that wood-chewing is not the same behaviour as windsucking or crib-biting.
When horses windsuck, they arch their neck and consume large amounts of air, which is often accompanied by a loud grunt. It’s thought that during the windsucking process, horses experience a release of endorphins (hormones that lower stress levels, ease pain, and make horses feel happier).
Sometimes, horses combine windsucking with crib-biting. Crib-biting horses will repetitively grip a surface (such as a stable door or fence post) between their teeth, before pulling backwards and grunting.
Why does my horse chew wood?
It’s important to discuss any concerns about your horse’s wood-chewing, windsucking, or crib-biting behaviour with your vet. If there’s an underlying condition causing your horse’s wood-chewing habit, then your vet will be able to help.
Frustration might make your horse head for the nearest fence to chew if they aren’t getting enough exercise for the energy they get from their food.
Many horses who experience a build-up of energy without a way to use it will be tempted to take up wood-chewing.
If your horse is stuck in their stable on box rest for a long time, or they’re unable to enjoy turnout with equine friends, they may get bored and could take up wood-chewing to self-soothe and stop themselves from feeling fed up.
Your horse has an incredible insight into their instinctive needs. So, if you notice your horse snacking on their stable door, there’s a chance they’re lacking certain vitamins or minerals in their diet. Have a chat with your vet if you think your horse might be missing something from their feed.
Another reason your equine friend may fancy the fence for lunch could be down to a lack of forage. Horses need to eat plenty of fibre in their diet to keep their digestive system moving, and it’s thought that some horses chew wood when there’s no hay around because it encourages salivation, which is important for digestion.
Mimicking a mate
Our horses spend so much time stabled now, that their only entertainment is, often, watching each other. Watching another horse chew wood can become a learned behaviour for some.
How do I stop my horse from chewing wood?
Opting to change the way you manage your horse’s care is far better for them than buying products designed to physically stop horses from performing wood-chewing, windsucking, or crib-biting behaviours.
Here are some recommendations to stop your horse chewing wood:
- Increase turnout time – by allowing your horse to enjoy extra time with their field friends, you’re helping them feel less anxious and preventing them from feeling bored in their stable.
- Provide ad-lib forage – allowing your horse constant access to forage is a clever way to discourage them from munching on their stable; however, it may not always be possible to provide ad-lib hay or haylage, in which case, speak to your vet about suitable alternatives.
- Offer stable toys – make your horse’s stable a super fun place to be by providing suitable stable toys for them; from a treat ball and boredom-breaking licks to a horse-friendly play ball and adding apple slices to their hay or haylage net (keep the apple slices thin, to avoid the risk of choke), there’s a huge choice of homemade activities and toys to keep your equine entertained!
- Check their diet – if your horse is frequently destroying the field fence or constantly chomping away at their wooden stable door, it’s the ideal time to have a chat with your vet about your horse’s diet and whether they’re getting all the nutrients they need.
How do I prevent my horse from picking up this habit?
There are some steps you can take to make it less likely that your horse picks up the habit of chewing wood:
- Allow a lot of turnout – preferably with their equine friends!
- Provide plenty of fibre – through forage (e.g. hay) and feed.
- Avoid super starchy food – it can damage their digestive system and make wood-chewing worse.
For more information on how to prevent your four-legged friend from chewing wood, it’s always a great idea to contact a vet for advice about your horse’s health-related habits.