Albright, J. D., Mohammed, H. O., Heleski, C. R., Wickens, C. L., & Houpt, K. A. (2009). Crib-biting in US horses: Breed predispositions and owner perceptions of aetiology. Equine Veterinary Journal, 41(5), 455–458.
Abstract: Reasons for performing study: Crib-biting is an equine stereotypy that may result in diseases such as colic. Certain breeds and management factors have been associated.
Objectives: To determine: breed prevalence of crib-biting in US horses; the likelihood that one horse learns to crib-bite from another; and owner perceptions of causal factors.
Methods: An initial postal survey queried the number and breed of crib-biting horses and if a horse began after being exposed to a horse with this habit. In a follow-up survey, a volunteer subset of owners was asked the number of affected and nonaffected horses of each breed and the extent of conspecific contact. The likelihood of crib-biting given breed and extent of contact was quantified using odds ratio (OR) and significance of the association was assessed using the Chi-squared test.
Results: Overall prevalence was 4.4%. Thoroughbreds were the breed most affected (13.3%). Approximately half of owners believed environmental factors predominantly cause the condition (54.4%) and crib-biting is learned by observation (48.8%). However, only 1.0% of horses became affected after being exposed to a crib-biter. The majority (86%) of horses was turned out in the same pasture with other horses and extent of contact with conspecifics was not statistically related to risk.
Conclusion: This is the first study to report breed prevalence for crib-biting in US horses. Thoroughbreds were the breed more likely to be affected. More owners believed either environmental conditions were a predominant cause or a combination of genetic and environmental factors contributes to the behaviour. Only a small number of horses reportedly began to crib-bite after being exposed to an affected individual, but approximately half of owners considered it to be a learned behaviour; most owners did not isolate affected horses.
Potential relevance: Genetic predisposition, not just intensive management conditions and surroundings, may be a factor in the high crib-biting prevalence in some breeds, and warrants further investigation. Little evidence exists to suggest horses learn the behaviour from other horses, and isolation may cause unnecessary stress.