Odd Oral Behaviors

My two 11-month-old fillies are on lush grass pasture, only in stalls about three hours a day with free-choice hay. One of them chews wood (not classic cribbing) in her stall, and the other will stand out in the pasture, put her lips about six inches from the ground, stick her tongue out an inch or so and suck in air, as if she’s cribbing air.??

The chewer eats three flakes of alfalfa a day and is longed vigorously at least once per day, working at the trot for 20-30 minutes. Could this chewing be related to a nutritional deficiency or is it boredom’

The windsucker eats one flake of hay per day. She was starved for the first three months of her life, unable to nurse. Could this have caused her to windsuck now’ Also, I heard that feeding baking soda can help/cure cribbing/windsucking. Is this true, and is it a safe and effective treatment’

They are fed 1/2 quart oats twice daily; plus 1/2 cup Milk n’ Grow, a supplement for growing young horses; 1 oz. Equi Base, a vitamin/mineral supplement; 1 oz. of a vitamin E/selenium supplement to prevent tying-up; 1 oz. Amino Fac, a protein supplement; 1/4 oz. garlic powder, to discourage flies; and a 1/2 cup CocoSoya for shiny coats.??

-M. Sikic

Horse Journal Responds:

If the “windsucking” filly is going to have a mature weight of 1,100 lbs., she should weigh about 660 pounds now, gaining about a half pound a day.??With just the grain and alfalfa, she’s getting just over half her needed calories, and all the calcium she needs. On the trace-mineral front, she may need more manganese, however, she’s likely getting the additional phosphorus and manganese she needs from the pasture and, hopefully, enough calcium to keep the calcium-to-phosphorus ratio in a good zone. Unless your pasture grass has an unbalanced mineral profile (you need to do a pasture analysis), we see no mineral problems here.

For the “chewing” filly, the total mineral intakes are all adequate, except for phosphorus and manganese.?? The calcium-to-phosphorus ratio is a little high, due to the three flakes of alfalfa, and her calorie intake is above basic growth requirements so she may not be eating as much grass as the other filly.??

Odds are that if the pasture is primarily grasses with not too much clover or alfalfa the grass it’s helping to bring her calcium-to-phosphorus ratio into a better balance, if she is eating enough of it.?? The regular formal exercise is probably also raising her calorie needs enough that her grass intake is considerably more than would be estimated just on maintenance and growth requirements alone. We wouldn’t recommend any changes in your supplement program based on the information we have.

As for the windsucking/chewing problems, these are likely just residual “oral” behaviors in young horses.?? However, we can’t rule out an ulcer in the filly that had the rough start.??Bicarb could help in a horse with an ulcer, just like baking soda does for acid indigestion, by giving temporary symptomatic relief.?? It might even be a good choice for a horse on a high-grain/low-hay or grass diet since this type of a diet would tend to produce high acidity in the gut.??

However, your grain intake is not excessive, so a better choice might be U-Gard Daily (Equine America 800/838-7524), which buffers with calcium and magnesium salts rather than bicarb so will not produce big changes in gut pH.?? It’s palatable, too.?? If you think she’s not eating enough/well, and the U-Gard doesn’t help, it might be a good idea to have her scoped to see if there is an ulcer problem that is severe enough to require some medication.

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