Horse owner alert: Cribbing and Colic

Information provided by Dr. David Freeman, Equine &  Large Animal Surgery Specialist and UF Large Animal Surgery Service Chief


Typical damage caused by horse cribbing

The UF Large Animal Surgery Service is informing horse owners about the dangers of cribbing, a stable vice often displayed in horses. Cribbing can predispose horses to colic, but was recently linked to one type of colic, epiploic foramen entrapment. This type of colic can cause death if not treated promptly by surgery.

Cribbing is displayed when a horse braces its teeth against an immobile object (usually a fence), opens its mouth and sucks in air. Horses can also swallow air without fixing their teeth, a vice called windsucking. Windsucking can also lead to colic, including entrapment in the epiploic foramen.

What is epiploic foramen entrapment in horses?

Epiploic foramen entrapment is a type of colic where part of the small intestine becomes trapped in the epiploic foramen, a small opening in the abdomen that is high up on the right side, under the liver. The size of the epiploic foramen can accommodate approximately two adult fingers.

The small intestine becomes strangulated and blood supply is cut off, causing that part of the intestine to die. This dead tissue can release toxins into the circulation that can make the horse very sick and eventually succumb, which is why it must be surgically removed.

Colic cases involving any form of intestinal strangulation are considered an emergency and must be seen by a veterinarian that can perform emergency colic surgery.

How can I stop my horse from cribbing?

There is no known reason as to why horses crib, but it is most likely due to boredom from being in a stall for long periods of time. There is also no evidence showing that it is a learned behavior from other horses.

Cribbing could be reduced or prevented by letting the horse out in a pasture as much as possible, preferably with other horses. Cribbing straps are available at feed stores or online, but unfortunately some horses tend to find a way to crib even with a cribbing strap. If these options don’t work, there is a surgical procedure that can be performed and that is effective in most, but not all cases. This surgery can be performed at the UF Large Animal Hospital and our surgeons can discuss this and other options with you.

Can epiploic foramen entrapment in horses be prevented?

The first step in successful surgical management of colic in horses is prompt referral of a potential surgical candidate to a hospital where surgery can be performed before irreversible changes have occurred.

Any form of colic is impossible to prevent entirely, but there are some things horse owners can do to help prevent colic in addition to reducing stable vices, such as cribbing and windsucking. Examples are:

  • Design a deworming program with your veterinarian. Current guidelines for parasite control are much different than previously used because of drug resistance.
  • Do not keep your horse in a stall for extended periods of time or in a pasture with sand if possible.
  • Feed good-quality roughage at all times and feed concentrates at a minimum.
  • Changes in diet, exercise, and general management should be avoided as much as possible.

More information

If you have other questions or if your horse is a cribber and conventional methods of prevention have been unsuccessful, contact your veterinarian or contact the UF Large Animal Hospital at 352-392-2229 to discuss other options.

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