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Wood chewing can be a frustrating and costly problem for many horse owners, especially if the horse chews fences, stall walls, posts, and other wood objects in the environment. Although some authorities see wood chewing as simply a bad habit, others see it as a stereotypy.
In addition to the damage done to property, wood chewing can lead to splinters in the mouth and stomach, infections, dental problems, and other complications. Also, if the wood has been treated, chemicals and carcinogens can cause additional harm to the horse.
Researchers have noted that wood chewing increases in horses that have limited access to forage and are confined in stalls for long periods of time. Some authorities believe that wood chewing may lead to cribbing.
- Routinely uses teeth to break pieces of wood off fences, stalls, or other objects,
- Chews the wood
- May either drop the wood on the ground or swallow it
The cause of wood chewing may be part of the horse's nature, according to some authorities, or the result of boredom, lack of opportunity to release nervous energy, lack of forage and fiber, inadequate feed, too much confinement with little socialization, lack of exercise, change in environment, or possibly because of dietary deficiency. .
Preventing wood chewing is often merely a matter of getting the horse out of the stall daily and making sure the horse gets enough exercise, whether from riding, lunging, or use of a walking machine.
Eliminating boredom by refitting stalls with windows or grills through which the horse can see other horses, installing break-proof mirrors to increase visual stimulation, or giving the horse toys may help. Making sure the diet includes enough roughage and nutrients is also important.
Generally, horses that have access to forage, sufficient pasture time, a diet adequate in minerals and other nutrients, plus enough socialization with other horses or companion animals do not develop a habit of wood chewing.
Treatment of wood chewing is much the same as prevention. Once wood chewing becomes an established habit, it may be difficult to stop. Some authorities suggest painting wood with a nontoxic chemical substance to make it unpalatable or stringing electric wire along the top of fences to keep the horse from chewing on those areas.
Switching the horse from pelleted feed to hay and making sure the horse has all needed nutrients may help stop wood chewing. More exercise, turn-out time in the pasture, and giving the horse toys that can either be knocked or kicked about are other forms of treatment that have worked with horses.
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