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What is Wood Chewing ?

Wood chewing in horses occurs when horses chew various types of wood in their surroundings. Horses may chew on wood in their stable, fencing, or trees. Hay and pasture may vary in the content of fiber and it is shown that if horses are not getting enough fiber in your diet they may choose to chew wood.

This is typically not a dangerous activity, but it can be harmful if they ingest staples, nails, or other harmful items within the wood. Pressure-treated wood does contain levels of arsenic and other chemicals that may be harmful to horses. Furthermore, there are trees that are considered poisonous, and if the horse chews the bark or wood from the trees, they could become ill.

If horses are understimulated or confined to a stall frequently with nothing to do they will develop behavioral issues. In an ideal world, horses should be in a pasture that is clean and nutrient-rich for the majority of the day. They should also have plenty of opportunities for socialization and activity. Horses need to move so they can be free to trot, canter, walk, roll around, buck, and play. Having a happy horse is crucial to preventing  specific behavioral conditions such as wood chewing.

Wood chewing in horses is a behavioral or nutritional condition in which horses chew the wood of trees, fencing, stall areas, and barn areas. 

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Symptoms of Wood Chewing in Horses

The symptoms of wood chewing in horses are very basic. If your horse chooses to chew wood very sparingly, it is typically not a cause for concern. Symptoms may include:

  • Chewing the wood on fences
  • Chewing wood on trees
  • Gravitating toward wood on the property
  • Stubborn behaviors
  • Not enough socialization
  • Boredom
  • Depression

Types

There are several types of trees that are poisonous to horses. It is very important that these trees are not on the property in which your horse grazes. Types of trees that are toxic include:

  • Wild cherry trees
  • Domestic cherry trees
  • Peach trees
  • Black locust trees
  • Black walnut trees
  • Pine trees

Causes of Wood Chewing in Horses

Causes of wood chewing in horses range from dietary insufficiencies to behavioral issues. Your veterinarian will be able to diagnose the condition and the specific cause of the wood chewing. Causes may include:

  • Forage is limited
  • Inadequate fiber in their diet
  • Insufficient feed
  • Over confinement
  • Boredom
  • Changes in activity level
  • Low-quality of pasture
  • Triggered behavior from other wood-chewing horses

Diagnosis of Wood Chewing in Horses

If you are noticing that your horse is chewing on wood, make an appointment with your veterinarian. Your veterinarian will assess your horse’s symptoms, if any, and may do some laboratory testing just to be sure there are no underlying health issues. He will also do a complete physical examination and assess any health conditions that are of concern; just to be sure there is no illness or disease that your horse may be suffering from.

Your veterinarian will ask you questions about your horse’s lifestyle. He will want to know about his daily routine, how much time he spends in the pasture, whether he is socialized, the amount of activity he performs, if any other horses around him chew wood, and any other information to help him understand why your horse is continuing to chew wood. You also want to know specific information about your horse’s diet, namely his fiber content and nutrients. He will want to also know about the type of feed he eats, and how much and how often he eats.

Once testing is complete, and your veterinarian has gathered all necessary information about his diet and lifestyle, he will explain to you the options you have to help your horse stop chewing wood. Typically, the treatment options include a small team of professionals to evaluate your companion’s odd behavior.

Treatment of Wood Chewing in Horses

Treatment of wood chewing in horses is more nutritional and behavioral than anything. Your veterinarian may recommend the following:

Nutrition Counseling

One treatment for wood chewing in horses is altering your horse’s fiber content. Once your veterinarian knows precisely what you are horse is eating, and if he gets plenty of time to graze on fresh pasture and hay, he may recommend nutritional counseling. Set meals and feed at specific times of the day do not satisfy your horse’s natural instincts and cravings to happily graze and eat freely. There are professional counselors available to help you decide on the ideal diet for your horse. Adding nutrients and fiber to his diet may prevent him from future wood chewing.

More Pasture Time

Pasture time is very important to horses so they do not become bored and so they can remain happy and healthy. Your veterinarian may recommend a new schedule for his pasture time which entails turning out your horse to a larger area where he is free to graze, roam, socialize, and exercise for longer periods of time.

Behavioral Specialist

If your horse’s wood chewing is excessive, your medical professional will recommend a behavioral specialist. A behavioral specialist is a professional who understands abnormal horse behaviors and can help alter those behaviors, such as wood chewing, so he does not harm himself or destroy any more property. The behavioral specialist will come to your horse and work with him and you to help him stop the habit by replacing it with other activities.

Recovery of Wood Chewing in Horses

Once you visit your veterinarian, a nutritional counselor, and possibly meet with a behavioral specialist, you should begin to see signs of improvement in your horse’s behavior over time. With the treatment options above, which are general management procedures, you should be very consistent with your horse and be sure he continues to receive proper pasture time, activity time, socialization, and less stall time. 

Being honest with yourself about your horse’s lifestyle and the way you are managing your horse’s daily routine will need to be considered. If there is something you can improve on in the way of managing and taking care of your horse, your veterinarian and team of counselors will help you be the best and most loving horse owner you can possibly be.