After designing and installing a quality-constructed stable in the middle of a beautiful paddock, the last thing we want to see is equine chew marks all over the stalls, walls, and surrounding fencing! More importantly, chewing wood can lead to lots of health problems for your horse too. Although chewing is a common habit among our equine friends, with a little effort, it can be a simple one to break. We explore some of the reasons horses start to eat wood followed by some effective and easy to implement solutions.
Why do horses eat wood?
Horses typically do not eat wood as part of their natural diet. Wood is not a suitable source of nutrition for horses and can be harmful to their health. However, there are a few reasons why a horse might chew on or ingest wood:
Boredom or lack of stimulation
Horses are naturally curious, intelligent, and active animals who love being outdoors and roaming in large areas. If they are kept in environments with limited turnout or inadequate mental stimulation, they may resort to chewing on wood out of boredom. Developing unwanted habits such as chewing, are particularly common during the winter months or when a horse is feeling poorly, and they spend more time indoors than they usually would.
In some cases, horses may chew on wood due to certain nutritional deficiencies. This behaviour is more commonly seen in horses that lack sufficient roughage in their diet or are deficient in certain minerals. Providing a well-balanced diet and access to appropriate forage can help prevent this behaviour.
Dental issues such as misaligned teeth or sharp points can cause discomfort or pain, leading a horse to seek relief by chewing on wood or other hard objects.
Coping with stress or anxiety
Horses may chew on wood as a coping mechanism when they are stressed or anxious. This can happen in situations such as confinement, changes in routine, or when they are separated from companions. Horses are social beings and being separated from companions can be lonely and stressful if it is for a prolonged period.
It is important to address the underlying cause if a horse is exhibiting wood-chewing behaviour. Providing a proper diet, ensuring regular dental check-ups, increasing exercise and mental stimulation, and addressing any sources of stress can help discourage this behaviour. It is also advisable to consult with a veterinarian or an equine behaviourist for a comprehensive evaluation and guidance.
Why should I stop my horse from chewing on wood?
The primary reason for preventing your horse from chewing wood is the negative effect it can have on their health. Ingesting wood can pose various hazards for example, splinters or rough edges of wood can cause injuries to the horse’s mouth, gums, or digestive tract. Wood may also contain toxins or chemicals if it has been treated or is from certain tree species which can be harmful if ingested. If a horse develops a strong habit of wood-chewing, it may ingest large amounts of wood, increasing the risk of blockages or impactions in the digestive system. This can lead to colic, a serious and potentially life-threatening condition in horses.
Dental problems are also common. Chewing on hard objects like wood can lead to excessive wear on the teeth, uneven tooth surfaces, or the development of sharp points, which can cause pain, discomfort, and difficulty in chewing properly. Dental problems can quickly affect the horse’s overall health and mental well-being.
Aside from the numerous health and safety concerns of wood chewing, there are other factors to consider too, such as the associated expense. Repeatedly chewing on wood can lead to damage of fences, stalls, or other structures, resulting in costly repairs. It is more economical to prevent the behaviour rather than continuously replacing or repairing damaged wood.
Allowing a horse to chew on wood can create a bad habit that may be difficult to break. Once a horse develops the habit of chewing on wood, it may be challenging to redirect their behaviour to appropriate sources of food and chewing, such as hay or equine-safe toys.
By discouraging wood-chewing behaviour, you can help protect your horse’s health, prevent dental issues, save on repair costs, promote safer environments, and establish better chewing habits.
Wood chewing solutions
Now that we have established why horses start to chew wooden objects and why it is important to prevent/stop them from doing so, you will be wondering how to effectively stop them from chewing wood? Here are some easy-to-implement strategies to try:
Ensure a well-balanced diet
Provide your horse with a diet that meets their nutritional needs. Ensure they have access to good-quality forage, such as hay or pasture, which can help satisfy their natural chewing instincts. A balanced diet can reduce the likelihood of nutritional deficiencies that may contribute to wood chewing.
Increase turnout and exercise
As mentioned above, a wood chewing habit can be made worse by boredom. As grazing animals, horses have a natural desire to graze for most of the day. The more you can mimic this lifestyle with your horses the better as it may go a long way to minimising unwanted behaviours.
Horses need regular exercise and mental stimulation. Increasing their turnout time in a safe and secure pasture or providing opportunities for daily exercise can help reduce boredom and regular exercise can also go a long way to helping alleviate stress and anxiety.
Provide appropriate chewing alternatives
Offer your horse suitable alternatives to chew on, such as equine-safe toys or specially designed horse treats and boredom breakers. Rubber toys, Likits, or horse-safe chew blocks can help redirect their chewing behaviour to more appropriate objects.
Evaluate dental health
Regular dental check-ups by a qualified equine dentist or veterinarian are essential to identify and address any dental issues. Ensuring that your horse’s teeth are properly aligned and free of sharp points can help reduce discomfort during chewing and discourage wood chewing behaviour.
Apply deterrent substances
Applying deterrent substances to the wood surfaces that the horse is prone to chew on can help discourage the behaviour. Bitter-tasting sprays or commercially available wood-chewing deterrent products can be effective. However, it’s important to ensure that the substances used are safe for horses and do not pose any health risks.
Provide environmental enrichment
Enhance your horse’s environment to provide mental stimulation and prevent boredom. This can include introducing novel objects, creating obstacle courses, or providing access to other equine companions for social interaction.
Minimise stress and anxiety
Identify and address any potential sources of stress or anxiety in your horse’s environment. Provide a consistent routine, reduce exposure to stressful situations, and ensure that your horse has appropriate social interaction and companionship.
Secure and repair structures
Ensure that fences, stalls, and other structures are in good condition and free of loose or splintered wood. Repair or replace damaged wood promptly to remove tempting chewing targets.
Remember that consistency and patience are key when working to discourage wood chewing behaviour. Just like us humans, it may take time for your horse to unlearn the habit, so be persistent in implementing these strategies and seek guidance from a veterinarian or equine behaviourist if needed.
If you are looking to repair an equine restructure or build a completely new structure for your horses, our expert team of timber building experts would be delighted to work with you to create a bespoke building for you and your horse’s needs. Why not request a brochure today to see how we might be able to help you.