Cribbing rings aren’t for every horse, and not every owner will be comfortable with the procedure. Using pain to halt cribbing may seem harsh, but this must be weighed against other possible damage done by cribbing.
“Horses wear their teeth out cribbing, and some horses colic. In the long run they do more damage to themselves and the facilities than that instant of pain if they try to crib,” Chris Ray, DVM, said. “The little bit of pain to put in a ring is instant and temporary.”
The American Association of Equine Practitioners’ Equine Welfare Committee, however, released a statement about the procedure, cautioning veterinarians about this technique.
The statement reads: “The use of hog rings as a device to prevent a horse from cribbing causes significant visible damage to the gingival surrounding the maxillary incisors, which has the potential to cause persistent pain and periodontal disease. Until such time as scientific evidence is available to demonstrate that the procedure and device does not cause unnecessary pain and is not harmful to the gingival, maxillary incisors and supporting structures, the AAEP does not support the use of hog rings as an anti-cribbing device.”
Tom Lenz, DVM, was chairman of the AAEP’s Equine Welfare Committee when that statement was released and is a former president of the AAEP.
“There are several reasons why we don’t support the use of these rings,” he said. “One is that they cause pain in conditions other than when the horse is cribbing. It doesn’t discriminate between cribbing or eating.”
He said that the horse could bump the ring when eating.
“The veterinarians who have put these in say it doesn’t interfere with eating, but it has to cause some pain. The ones I’ve seen usually hang down below the incisors, though I’ve seen pictures of some that have been put into the gum horizontally (so they don’t hang down),” he said.
Lenz’ other concern about the procedure is that cribbing is a symptom of a psychological problem. “You are not really solving the issue by stopping the cribbing,” he added.
Horses start cribbing because of a frustration due to the stress of an unnatural living situation or by copying another horse that cribs. “They either develop it on their own because of being confined in a stall—and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a pasture-raised horse spontaneously start cribbing—or they learn it from another horse,” said Lenz.
“In the past, we thought that when horses crib and swallow air this predisposes them to colic. But during our discussion in the welfare committee it came out that there’s really no evidence to support this belief,” he added.
Except for wearing down the teeth, cribbing has little adverse effect on the horse, he said. The habit is more destructive to the facilities than the horse and is also an annoyance for the horse owner.
“Before we developed our statement about cribbing rings, we talked with our dental committee, and they thought that the rings could cause some serious periodontal problems, anything from infections to damaging the way the teeth grow, and possible damage to the roots of the teeth. The rings could also cause some malocclusion problems,” he said.
If the ring hangs down far enough to keep the incisors from meeting, then it also keeps the molars from touching, and the teeth won’t wear normally.
“The ones I’ve seen were down below the incisors about 1⁄8 to 1⁄16th inch. That would still prevent the molars from meeting. So for all of these reasons, and with the support of the dental committee of the AAEP, we felt that this was not something veterinarians should be doing until first it was proven that it does cure cribbing and second that it does not cause pain or periodontal disease,” he said.
“There’s nothing wrong with using a little bit of pain for specific issues, like to use a spur gently to move a horse forward, but constant pain (like to keep spurring a horse in the flank) would not be good,” he added. “You don’t want to inflict pain for no reason.”