It’s likely as many as 30% of horses chew wood to some extent. The severity can range from the occasional munch out of curiosity or boredom to scraping with the teeth when irritated/annoyed, all the way to the horse actually consuming significant amounts of wood.
In addition to the property damage they inflict, 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.”
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.
As you might expect, all topical wood-chewing products sink in and work much better and longer when put on bare wood surfaces rather than on smooth finishes. Dry wood will absorb the applications better than wet surfaces.
Once inside the wood, rain won’t harm the topical you applied, but if the surface is rained on shortly after application you may need to reapply.
We recommend you concentrate the applications on areas where the horses are actually chewing and be on the alert for new spots being chosen once you start to use the products.
Cribbing and wood chewing aren’t the same thing. Anyone with a true cribber knows that chew-deterrent products rarely, if ever, make much difference in cribbing behavior.
Part of the reason for this is that cribbing is an “addictive” behavior, with the urge to crib apparently quite strong. Another reason is that the cribbing horse doesn’t actually touch the surface he’s using to crib with his lips or tongue, so it’s much easier for him to ignore any unpleasant tastes or burning sensations.
Of the products we tried, Raplast was the most likely to deter — note we said deter, not stop — cribbing because it is highly effective by smell as well as direct contact. However, heavier applications would likely be needed, and this is highly irritating to the eyes and the respiratory tract of both humans and the horses.
We included a variety of breeds and ages in our trials. Some horses were in work, while some were not. Some were on turnout, and others were basically stall confined. All the products were used as directed on the labels and the horses observed for at least a week to determine effectiveness.
Farnam’s supplement Quitt is definitely worth trying, especially with its money-back guarantee. It’s easier to feed a palatable supplement once a day than keep up with repeated applications of topical deterrents, and we found it did work on a number of our test horses.
Of the topical products, we think hard-core offenders will likely require Raplast. It’s expensive, compared to the other options, but a light application gets the job done and it lasts much longer.
Although technically designed for bandages, we found Raplast works just as well on wood. A close second, and at half the price, is Eqyss McNasty. We found it highly effective, lasting up to two days.