It's likely as many as 30% of horses chew wood to some extent. In addition to the property damage horses inflict, horse wood chewers also run the risk of getting splinters in their lips, tongue or gums. Pieces of wood in the intestinal tract may cause irritation, direct damage or serve as a core around which enteroliths can form.
There are many theories regarding why horses chew wood. Horses confined to a stall without constant access to hay or with turnout on little-to-no grass will often munch on wood simply because of insufficient chew time.
Wood chewing may also be a manifestation of nervousness, anxiety, irritation, boredom, insufficient exercise or possibly even low-grade pain, including ulcer-related pain.
If the wood chewing is a new behavior in your horse and associated with temperament and/or appetite changes, discuss with your veterinarian the possibility of low-grade abdominal pain.
Management comes into play with wood chewers. Making sure the horse has something else to chew on besides the stall or fence will often stop wood-chewing problems. Hay should be available all the time to these horses, even for those on lush pasture, since they may be chewing wood in search of more dietary fiber. Stall-confined horses should also have a mature cutting of hay available all the time. The cutting of more mature hay is more stemmy and "chewy."
Put It To Use
• Try Quitt. It's simple to use and often effective.
• Keep late-cutting hay available at all times.
• If it's a new vice, check management changes.
• Check dietary mineral intakes and balances.
• Concentrate topicals in chosen areas.
If weight is a problem, reduce or eliminate grain and feed hay free-choice. Exercise the horse and maximize turnout time, all day, every day, if possible.
Do a good nutritional analysis, especially for mineral deficiencies and imbalances, which have long been suspected as being one of the causes of wood chewing.
Although it hasn't been proven, this theory is yet another call for you to ensure your horse's diet is up to par. You can substitute an appropriate mineral or mineral/protein pellet for grain to help ensure adequate dietary intake.