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Behavior: crib-biting and wind-sucking


Synonym(s): Cribbing


  • Crib-biting involves the grasping of a fixed object between incisor teeth and pulling caudally. Air is drawn into and then expelled from the cranial esophagus via the mouth, producing a characteristic grunt   Behavior: crib-biting  . It is often associated with wind-sucking.
  • Wind-sucking involves the characteristic arching of the neck and engulfing of air into the cranial esophagus, without the grasping of a fixed object. It is therefore considered similarly with crib-biting, rather than being defined as an entirely separate behavior   Behavior: crib-biting and wind-sucking   (not to be confused with pneumovagina qv).
  • Crib-biting should not be confused with wood-chewing   Behavior: wood-chewing, which is not necessarily a stereotypic behavior, and is frequently a re-direction of feeding activity particularly in horses fed low forage diets.
  • Signs: characteristic behaviour with oropharyngeal grunt, weight loss, poor appetite, restlessness in the stable, increased water intake, hypertrophy of ventral neck muscles   Neck: sternocephalicus hypertrophy, wear of the labial surface of the upper incisor teeth, lower than normal fecal pH and history of gastrointestinal problems, including gastric ulceration and intermittent colic.
  • Diagnosis: history, signs.
  • Treatment: management changes including increased turn out and provision of ad-lib high fiber, avoidance of concentrate rations (or change to fat or oil based ones if absolutely necessary and supplementation with antacid), environmental enrichment, increased exercise, provision of cribbing surface. Prevention by various physical constraints or aversion therapy, including cribbing strap or metal cribbing bar   Behavior: cribbing strap in use; neurectomy or myectomy; drug therapy is not recommended.
  • Prognosis: guarded to fair; rarely eliminated permanently. Best treated immediately after starting. Appropriate management and provision of antacid dietary supplements   →   best results.
Print off the Owner factsheets on Crib-biting/wind-sucking/wood-chewing and Vices - why and how to manage them to give to your clients.



  • There is no empirical evidence that horses can learn the behavior from each other.
  • Young horses often develop crib-biting after being weaned, particularly if fed concentrates at this time.
  • Usually associated with limited turn out or limited exercise in stabled horses.
  • May be associated with management and diets that cause gastric ulceration   Stomach: gastric ulceration  , eg increased frequency of cribbing in horses fed high concentrate, low fiber rations.

Predisposing factors

  • Abrupt weaning onto concentrates and feeding regimens associated with gastric ulceration   Stomach: gastric ulceration  .
  • Restricted foraging opportunities.
  • Intense training regimens (performance horses).
  • Reactive predispositions.
  • Stabled for long periods.
  • Young horses.


  • Usually intensively stabled horses, particularly if fed high concentrate, low forage diets from an early age. Also horses having limited exercise, turn out or social contact.
  • Causes wear on teeth   Teeth: abnormal wear  .
  • May be combined with wind-sucking - originally believed to involve the intake of air to the alimentary tract, however, little air travels into the esophagus, so it probably represents a 'burp' more than a 'gulp'.
  • Crib-biting: grasping of fixed object between incisors   →    biting hard   →    characteristic wear pattern of incisors   Behavior: crib-biting  .
  • May be associated with GI disorders, eg gastric ulcers, epiploic foramen entrapment.
  • Both disorders may result in reduced resting and feeding   →    weight loss, poor appetitie, hypertrophy of neck muscles, especially sternocephalicus   Neck: sternocephalicus hypertrophy  .
  • Cribbing has been associated with increased heart rates implying that crib-biters are more physiologically aroused than control/normal horses.


  • Long-term disorder.


  • Thought that young horses may redirect suckling reflex to other substrates, particularly if kept stabled for long periods and fed concentrated during and following weaning.
  • Thought that youngsters may be at increased risk of acquiring the behavior when managed in ways that are associated with gastric ulceration, ie feeding of concentrates, reduced turn-out and grazing, long periods of stabling, intense training.


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Further Reading


Refereed papers

  • Recent references from PubMed and VetMedResource.
  • Litva A, Robinson C S & Archer D C (2010) Exploring lay perceptions of the causes of crib-biting/windsucking behaviour in horses. Equine Vet J 42 (4), 288-293 PubMed.
  • Albright J D, Mohammed H O, Heleski C R et al (2009) Crib-biting in US horses: Breed predispositions and owner perceptions of aetiology. Equine Vet J 41 (5), 455-458 PubMed.
  • Freire R, Clegg H A, Buckley P, Friend M A & McGreevy P D (2008) Behavioural and physiological effects of virginiamycin in the diets of horses with steretypies. Vet Rec 163 (14), 413-417 PubMed.
  • Nicol C J & Badnell-Waters A J (2005) Suckling behaviour in domestic foals and the development of abnormal oral behaviourAnim Behav 70, 21-29 VetMedResource.
  • Nicol C J, Badnell-Waters A J, Bice R et al (2005) The effects of diet and weaning method on the behaviour of young horsesAppl Anim Behav Sci 95, 205-221 VetMedResource.
  • Archer D C, Freeman D E, Doyle A J, Proudman C J & Edwards G B (2004) Association between cribbing and entrapment of the small intestine in the epiploic foramen in horses: 68 cases (1991-2002)JAVMA 224, 562-564 PubMed.
  • Bachmann I, Baernasconi P, Herrmann R, Weishaupt M A & Stauffacher M (2003) Behavioural and physiological responses to an acute stressor in crib-biting and control horsesAppl Anim Behav Sci 82, 297-311 VetMedResource.
  • Normando A, Canali E, Ferrante V & Verga M (2002) Behavioural problems in Italian saddle horsesJ Equine Vet Sci 22, 117-120 VetMedResource.
  • Hillyer M H, Taylor F G R, Proudman C J et al (2002) Case control study to identify risk factors for simple colonic obstruction and distension colic in horsesEquine Vet J 34, 455-463 PubMed.
  • Waters A J, Nicol C J & French N P (2002) Factors influencing the development of stereotypic and redirected behaviors in young horses - the findings of a four year prospective epidemiological study. Equine Vet J 34 (6), 572-579 PubMed.
  • Nicol C J, Davidson H P B, Harris P A, Waters A J & Wilson A D (2002) Study of crib-biting and gastric inflammation and ulceration in young horsesVet Rec 151, 658-662 PubMed.
  • Mills D S & Macleod C A (2002) The response of crib-biting and wind-sucking in horses to dietary supplementation with an antacid mixtureIppologia 13, 33-41 VetMedResource.
  • McGreevy P D, Webster A J F & Nicol C J (2001) A study of the digestive efficiency, behaviour and gut transit times of crib-biting horses. Vet Rec 148, 592-596 PubMed.
  • Minero M (1999) Heart rate and behavioral responses of crib-biting horses to two acute stressors. Vet Rec 145 (15), 430-433 PubMed.
  • Cooper J J & Mason G J (1998) The identification of abnormal behavior and behavioural problems in stabled horses and their relationship to horse welfare - a comparative review. Equine Vet J 27, 5-9 PubMed.
  • Lane J G (1998) Recent studies on crib-biting horses. Equine Vet J 27, 59-61.
  • Lebelt D, Zanella A J & Unshelm J (1998) Physiological correlates associated with the cribbing behavior in horses - changes in thermal threshold, heart rate, plasma beta-endorphin and serotonin. Equine Vet J 27, 21-27 PubMed.
  • Luescher U A, McKeown D B & Dean H (1998) A cross-sectional study on compulsive behavior (stable vices) in horses. Equine Vet J 27, 14-18 PubMed.
  • McBride S D (1998) A comparison of physical and pharmacological treatments for stereotyped behavior in the horse. Equine Vet J 27, 51-52.
  • McGreevy P D & Nicol C J (1998) Prevention of crib-biting - a review. Equine Vet J 27, 35-38 PubMed.
  • McGreevy P D & Nicol C J (1998) The effect of short term prevention on the subsequent rate of crib-biting in Thoroughbred horses. Equine Vet J 27, 30-34 PubMed.
  • McGreevy P D & Nicol C J (1998) Physiological and behavioral consequences associated with short-term prevention of crib-biting in horses. Physiology and Behavior 65 (1), 15-23 PubMed.
  • Redbo L, Redbo-Torstensson P, Odberg F O, Hedendahl A & Holm J (1998) Factors affecting behavioural disturbances in race-horses. Animal Sci 66, 475-481 VetMedResource.
  • Nicol C J (1998) Understanding equine stereotypies. Equine Vet J 28, 20-25 PubMed.
  • McGreevy P D, Cripps P J, French N P, Green L E & Nicol C J (1995) Management factors associated with stereotypic and redirected behavior in the Thoroughbred horse. Equine Vet J 27 (2), 86-91 PubMed.
  • McGreevy P D, French N P & Nicol C J (1995) The prevalence of abnormal behaviours in dressage, eventing and endurance horses in relation to stabling. Vet Rec 137, 36-37 PubMed.
  • McGreevy P D, Richardson J D, Nicol C J & Lane J G (1995b) A radiographic and endoscopic study of horses performing an oral stereotypy. Equine Vet J 27 (2), 92-95 PubMed.
  • Fjeldborg J (1993) Results of surgical treatment of cribbing by neurectomy and myectomy. Equine Pract 15 (7), 34-36 VetMedResource.
  • Mason G J (1991) Stereotypies - a critical review. Animal Behavior 41 (6), 1015-1037 VetMedResource.

Other sources of information

  • Nicol C J, Davidson H P B, Harris P A, Waters A J & Wilson A D (2001) Crib-biting is associated with mucosal inflammation and ulceration in young horses. In: Proc 35th Int Congress ISAE. Davis, California.
  • McBride S D (1996) A comparison of pharmacological treatments for stereotyped behavior in the horse. In: Proc 30th Int Congress ISAE. Guelph, Canada 18, 14-17.

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