Crib-biting could be hereditary trait

May 29, 2009


Research in the US suggests there may be a genetic factor to cribbing.

Horses may be genetically predisposed to become crib-biters, recent research in the United States suggests.

A postal survey of horse owners was conducted by Dr Julia Albright and colleagues at Cornell University's College of Veterinary Medicine.

They sent short postcard surveys to 2000 subscribers of four horse magazines.

The received information on more than 3500 horses from 401 replies. This was followed with a second more detailed survey, which looked at factors such as breed, amount of contact with other horses, and the owners' opinions on the cause of the behaviour.

Overall, 4.5 per cent of the horses demonstrated crib-biting behaviour, Equine Science Update reported.

Thoroughbreds were more than twice as likely than any other breed to crib-bite. They were five times more likely to be crib biters than were Arabians and three times more likely than Quarter horses.

What did the owners think caused the horses to adopt this behaviour? Do horses learn to crib bite by watching their neighbours? Or is it in their genes?

The majority (54.5%) of owners of crib-biting horses believed that environmental factors were mostly to blame. A combination of environmental and genetic factors, were blamed by 40.9%, while 3.4% of owners attributed the behaviour primarily to genetic factors.

Almost half of the owners (49%) believed horses copied abnormal behaviours. However, only one per cent of horses in the survey started cribbing after a cribber was introduced to the farm.

The researchers point out that the difference between breeds could not be attributed purely to environmental factors. Although thoroughbreds are often intensively managed, so too are horses of other breeds and disciplines.

They suggest that further research could try to identify specific genes responsible for crib-biting as well as looking into the management and social factors that are involved.