The fact that the horse grabs a fixed object and makes a grunting sound while gulping air is a syptom of an underlying imbalance.

If Your Horse Cribs or Chews, Choose Homeopathy!

One of the most frustrating problems for the horse owner is having a horse that chews wood or cribs. These particular equine actions have got researchers baffled and owners jumping through hoops. Wood chewing describes primarily a destructive behavior or habit where horses will chew and destroy wood. Cribbing, also known as wind sucking, is a behavior where the horse will actually bear down with the teeth on the wood or other fixed object and draw air in; it can include the destruction of wood as well.

These habits are potentially harmful for several reasons. Cribbers can wear their teeth abnormally affecting their ability to eat; cribbers often develop a thickening of the throat muscles which can sometimes be a problem; they can suck in splinters of wood or other foreign material, and if the surfaces are treated with creosote or other chemicals, they can ingest those toxic materials and develop further problems. Colic may or may not be a problem; it is not known if the cribbing causes the colic or the colic causes the cribbing, but there could be a causal relationship.

Researchers are busy observing cribbers while searching for ways to put a stop to it. They are carefully monitoring how much air actually goes to the stomach with each 'gulp' and how the different parts of the throat work during this process. Though research has not yet provided clear answers on what makes a horse crib, it is obvious that horses get some kind of satisfaction or relief from it or they wouldn't do it.

Good reasons abound: there is not enough roughage to chew on; there is a lack of good grazing and hay; the diet lacks certain nutrients; no grazing means no natural incisor reduction therefore the horse attempts to wear down the incisors himself; it produces a feeling of euphoria and is addicting; it promotes mental well being and establishes nervous equilibrium; they learned it from a buddy. All of these reasons and more may be true. Whatever the cause, the cribbers have their reasons. And cribbing is not a problem to cribbers except that we try to thwart their every effort to do it.

Anti-cribbing devices only stop the behavior temporarily

So what's an owner to do? Get a collar or other device to prevent this behavior? Let him do it and risk the possible hazards? Have the horse's throat surgically altered so he can't do it (if the surgery works)? Replace the barn annually? None of the above?

The answer should be none of the above. The fact that the horse grabs a fixed object and makes a grunting sound while gulping air is a symptom of an underlying imbalance. Cutting the nerves only takes away the ability to perform the act, if it is successful, but it does not get to the root of the problem. It cures nothing. Anti-cribbing devices only stop the behavior temporarily, so they cure nothing. To cure means to balance out the imbalance, to make well and whole again. It does not mean cover up the symptoms or surgically alter the offender, as many owners have done. Many turned to surgery only to find out that it did not even work. Subjecting a horse to a surgical procedure to try to get him to give up a bad habit is the wrong approach; should we remove a nail-biter's fingernails? Like a child, a behavior is there for a reason - it is a communication device, the body is speaking. Why don't we listen to our horse when he speaks? He is saying, "All is not well, there is a problem here. Doing this makes me feel better, so that's what I'll do."

Perhaps one thing we need to consider is that there is likely no 'physical' need for cribbing, because if there were, research would have certainly discovered that. It is not 'instinctual' either, or nearly every horse would be doing it. So what kind of a 'need' is it? We can safely assume that it is a need of a different kind - a mental or emotional need. And therein lies the elusive answer, in that area rarely touched by research.

It is therefore not surprising that research has not found answers. Every horse is an individual and what makes one horse want to crib may be totally different from what makes another horse want to crib. Every horse has a different past, a different horsonality, and different stresses. Even if every horse did have the same past, each would not be affected the same. Each horse is unique. One horse that has a traumatic experience may deal with it and adjust accordingly where another will be negatively affected for a long time. The horse may have suffered a physical problem that has since been overcome while the emotional and mental damage still remains. He may have gone through an early weaning or separation from a long-time buddy that has left emotional scars. He may have a nutritional deficiency or physical imbalance that is causing stress. He may have fears and anxieties that he can't deal with otherwise. Or, he may be subject to daily stresses such as confinement, boredom, overwork, and other unnatural living conditions. Most indicators point to stress as the main reason why horses crib. But stress in horses can be the result of so many things that we may never find the reason.

This is why homeopathy is so valuable. Whether it be actually wood chewing, windsucking, aerophagia, whatever the name (much time is frivolously spent defining these behaviors), be it from boredom, fear, anxiety, or pain, homeopathy can help. Instead of surgery, anti-cribbing devices, and other poor choices, why not try homeopathy? Homeopathy is an option that should definitely be considered, because eliminating this behavior, or this 'need' is possible with homeopathy. Homeopathy looks at the individual, taking into consideration all of his characteristics and symptoms. Homeopathic treatment is tailored to that unique being and can unravel his tangles, physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Robin Cannizzaro, DVM, CVA in St. Petersburg, Florida, says, "Homeopathic treatment can eliminate cribbing and chewing. One of the difficulties, though, is that sometimes a change is needed, such as a change in the environment, if that is a contributing factor. If the horse's circumstances can never change, and the lifestyle and environment stay the same, you may get only marginal or moderate improvement," she cautions. "If the owner can add toys in the stall, free choice minerals, provide good, clean nutrition, and free access to the outdoors where the horse can get out and graze more, it's likely that the success will be greater. It may be necessary to make some compromises in certain areas. It's a little harder with horses than it is with dogs and cats, but changing the environmental circumstances to some degree may help change the behavior," she says. "We do such unnatural things; horses are really grazing animals and they were never intended for confinement. It's a terrible injustice to them to confine them because there's nothing for them to do all day and nothing to graze on. Naturally they are roamers and grazers, and we've taken that away from them and asked them to stand quietly in a stall for 23 or 24 hours at a time. That's too much."

Dr. Cannizzaro continues, "I suspect that both of these behaviors really have more to do with confinement, boredom, and anxiety than a nutritional deficiency. If a horse that gets very nervous or excited at a show, tends to always be nervous, maybe sweats a lot, gets hyper and excited, it may not be surprising that they crib. Or a cribber may be a horse that's hard to entertain, is bored, can't get interested in anything, or is in the stall for a long time. I doubt that the cause is actually a nutritional deficiency; I don't really think that they are gnawing on wood to get some nutrients that they are deficient in. Cribbing can actually be characterized as a form of obsessive-compulsive behavior, and some horses will prefer to crib rather than eat."

"Homeopathic medicine can be of incredible benefit," Dr. Cannizzaro explains, "because homeopathy will treat the mental, emotional, physical and spiritual spheres of animals. If they have imbalances in any one of those areas then homeopathy will help to restore those areas to balance. Treating a horse homeopathically is not always so easy because, unlike a psychologist with a human, we can't exactly discuss with horses the reasons why they do it and what they are feeling and experiencing when they chew wood or crib. One really has to take a detailed history of information in order to determine what the underlying cause might be."

Whether or not the cause of a habit such as cribbing is known, one can still treat homeopathically with success. Because homeopathic treatment addresses the animal's underlying imbalances, it can cure. Homeopathy looks at the horse's disposition, how he reacts to different situations, what his likes and dislikes are, his eating habits, urination and defecation habits, any 'dis-ease' symptoms, physical conditions and characteristics, what things make matters worse, what things make matters better, and more. Bringing the horse back to balance and re-establishing his equilibrium will eliminate the need for the cribbing, permanently.

Treating a cribbing horse homeopathically is best done with the guidance of a professional. A mental or emotional imbalance may be deep-seated and the route of cure can be challenging and confusing. Knowing what to expect in the curing process is important. Signs of cure may look like regression to the unknowing owner, because there may be a temporary emergence of a past mental or physical problem. Though this occurrence may be unnerving, it is generally a good indication that cure is underway.

Dr. Cannizzaro says, "When you're communicating with a holistic veterinarian or homeopath, look at the things that really stand out about this particular horse. What characteristics does this horse exhibit? When working up an animal constitutionally, the one remedy that you're going to use is going to be very specific and individual to that particular animal."

"So what symptom do we look up in the repertory?" she continues. "I would think, from my experience with cribbing horses, that the cribbing horse, or the destructive horse, is going to be a horse that's pretty high strung. Or it's going to be a horse that really isn't very comfortable being confined, or a horse that can get excited and nervous about things, maybe a high energy horse. If so, you look under anxieties, an enormous rubric in the repertory - there are 100 or more remedies dealing with anxiety. Now you can narrow it down if there are certain circumstances like anxiety before events or anxiety about new people or strangers. There may be a fear of dogs. If the horse exhibits some evidence of fears or apprehensions about more specific circumstances, then you can narrow it down even more. The horse may startle easily or have unpredictable behaviors, being fine one minute and biting at you the next minute; they seem fine then they have these uncontrollable outbursts. The horse may paw or weave. Pecking order can have a connection to cribbing. Horses that are pushed around a lot or dominated a lot may be cribbers. They can't really express themselves, like children who aren't really allowed to be who they are," she explains.

"Whenever you see any kind of imbalance, and cribbing is considered an imbalance that is rooted most likely in the psychological arena, it's not really a physical problem," Dr. Cannizzaro says. "It can create physical problems, but the origin of it is in the psychological. Whether colic is actually attributable to the cribbing or colic just happens because the horse has chronic disease and this is one manifestation of it, is uncertain. With a chronic disease state or an imbalance, you're going to find other chronic disease symptoms which are physical, mental, or emotional. Rarely are you going to find one symptom alone. I don't think there could be a horse that cribs and is perfect in every other way. How could that be, especially if it's a psychologically based thing? 'He cribs, but he has no fears, eats great, keeps weight on great, never lame, never sore, manure's great, never has parasites, has perfect behavior, no anxieties, really mellow at the show. '. It just wouldn't happen. That would be like a cigarette smoker saying, 'I just do it, for no particular reason, I like it, I'm not addicted.' People smoke cigarettes for a reason and it's usually psychological," says Dr. Cannizzaro.

"So to find a remedy, find some other things, maybe some physical things, that appear unrelated in your case and can be cross-referenced with the anxiety. Diarrhea - is there an unusual odor, is it frothy, flatulent? Does the horse have another strange behavior? That gives you a starting point. There may be something back in the history, such as the horse had a trailer accident and has been nervous ever since, which would be a very useful piece of information in narrowing down the choices. This is how you determine which remedy to use. Maybe this is a horse that is prone to loose stools. Maybe there is a particular lameness. Maybe the horse is an easy keeper, or maybe it is difficult to keep weight on her, like with many cribbers. The horse might only be anxious when going to a horse show. She might be calm and quiet at home but flighty, excitable, alert and intense when taken off the property. So you're going to have different constitutions, and I would think nervousness and anxiety and fear are going to be big players in the cribber, if you're speaking particularly about cribbing. But you need to figure out what else to look at, because there are hundreds of homeopathic remedies for fear and anxiety. Fear and anxiety are very similar," Dr. Cannizzaro explains.

"Some of the remedies that are indicated for fear and anxiety are Phosphorus (calm and quiet and then can explode), Aconite (fright), Lycopodium (fear of appearing in public), Belladonna (very intense horse), Argentum nitricum (for excitement), Silica, Calcarea carbonica, Causticum, Kali Carb, Thuja, and there are many, many others. Knowing your remedies very well is the key to prescribing accurately," Dr. Cannizzaro emphasizes. "Being able to find the few peculiar things that you can cross with the predominant feature in the case is going to give you the most correct answer. To help your homeopath, look for things that are particularly unusual, things that they might never have seen in another horse before. One horse we had used to put his feet in buckets all the time. Look for a totally rare and peculiar symptom. Maybe they have a twitching eye along with the cribbing. All the remedies have similar entities; if you can't find something peculiar in the case, then you might not prescribe very accurately," says Dr. Cannizzaro.

Instead of trying to find reasons for cribbers and wood chewers - ". we humans yawn and chew gum on airplanes to 'pop' our ears, maybe cribbers are too; we bite our nails; maybe nail-biters and people who smoke were weaned too early, and maybe cribbers were too ." - or trying to find new ways to thwart his efforts to crib and chew, find a homeopath and help the horse with homeopathy instead. Whether the reasons for it are known or unknown, get to the bottom of the cribbing or chewing problem and eliminate it, for good.


Robin Cannizzaro, DVM, CVA, operates a mixed practice for horses, pets, birds, and exotics in St. Petersburg, Florida, where she practices several natural healing modalities including Nutrition, Classical Homeopathy, Herbs, and Acupuncture. She also does consultations nationwide. To reach Dr. Cannizzaro, call 727-528-0298 or fax 727-525-7005.

Natural Horse Magazine thanks Dr. Cannizzaro for her invaluable help in preparing this article.

To obtain a list of holistic veterinarians in your area, contact The American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association at 410-569-0795, e-mail:, or, American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association Directory.