The effect of a feeding stress-test on the behaviour and heart rate variability of control and crib-biting horses (with or without inhibition)

Krisztina Nagy, Gábor Bodó, György Bárdos, Andrea Harnos, Péter Kabai

Research output: Article

30 Citations (Scopus)


Crib-biting is a form of oral stereotypy affecting 4-5% of horses. Once fixed, crib-biting is difficult to eliminate by behaviour therapy, however, its performance can be inhibited by collar or surgery treatment (modified Forssell's procedure). Although surgical intervention is widespread, the effects on stress coping in horses have not been studied. In the present study we evaluated changes in behaviour response and heart rate variability in 9 control, 10 crib-biting, 10 collar and 11 surgically treated horses in a feeding stress-test, in which a feeding-bowl was placed in front but out of the reach of the horses, from which tidbits were given 3 times. We found that stress triggers high oral activity, mainly cribbing in crib-biting horses, elevates other forms of oral activities in the inhibited groups and does not affect oral activities of controls. Instead of performing oral activities, control horses tended to target an unavailable feeding-bowl by pawing or head-tossing. Changes in stress level were indistinguishable in controls and crib-biters as heart rate variability returned to baseline values in both groups. In contrast, horses inhibited to perform crib-biting showed elevated stress level throughout the test period. Our results suggest that crib-biting may develop to cope with stress, and such coping function diminishes when inhibited.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)140-147
Number of pages8
JournalApplied Animal Behaviour Science
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - nov. 1 2009


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Food Animals
  • Animal Science and Zoology

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