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Question

My 8 year old Tennessee Walker has developed the irritating habit of cribbing. Can you tell me why this occurs and if there are any long-term negative side effects I should be concerned about?

Answer

Cribbing or Crib Biting is considered a behavioral stable vice. The horse will take hold of an animate object with their incisor teeth (front teeth) and by pressing down hard will arch their head and neck. They do this by contracting sternocephalicous and sternohyoideus muscles (ventral neck muscles). This occurs in varying frequencies depending on the individual horse’s need and desire to crib.  Some horses are easily distracted and some horses seem to avoid all means instituted to prevent the cribbing. Some horses will also "wind suck“, or swallow air during this cribbing.  This air can accumulate in the intestine and can cause abdominal pain or colic.  It is important to ascertain whether the horse is swallowing air and take needed precautions to stop the cribbing.  Usually a cribbing collar placed around the throat latch, and occasionally over the poll, will put pressure on the affected muscles thus making it uncomfortable for the horse to crib. These collars vary in form from a leather strap, to straps with metal projections to increase the severity of the prevention. Surgical intervention should be reserved for those horses that do not respond to the cribbing collars.  In 1929 Dr. Forssell described a technique in which the muscles that attached to the hyoid bone were excised, thus preventing air swallowing. Since that time modifications of Dr. Forssell’s technique have been described where less muscle has been excised, thus preventing any cosmetic damage. A neurectomy of the accessory spinal nerve has also been described and proven to be beneficial, however these modified techniques are not as efficacious as Forssell's technique.

Question

With the upcoming spring mud season could you tell me how to identify and treat scratches or greasy heel on my horse?

Answer

Scratches is a common term also referred to as greasy heel, mud fever, and cracked heels -  all referring to a chronic dermatitis of the palmar aspect of the heel and pastern. Local irritation due to environment or trauma allow penetration of various organisms such as bacteria, fungi, mange, allergic agents and dermatophytes. Thorough dermatological workup including skin scrapings, biopsy, bacterial and fungal cultures is indicated. The condition is usually bilateral with the hind limbs affected more commonly. Pain, swelling, hair loss, exudation, and ulceration are common early signs. In chronic cases odor, fissure, vegetative growth and lameness can be seen. The environment in which the horse lives, and locally on the heel (ie long haired horses), markedly predispose horses to this condition.  Therefore the most efficacious treatment is to remove the horse from this environment. Often times clipping the hair and daily cleaning with a mild antiseptic shampoo will cure the condition. Larger lesions may require surgical intervention and/or treatment with mild drying ointments that often contain a steroid for anti-inflammatory benefits.  Culture and biopsy can also indicate topical and systemic antibiotics that can be beneficial.  Severe cases that create exuberent granulation tissue (proud flesh), open wounds, or sarcoids (tumors) need to be treated more aggressively with surgery, bandaging and hospitalization.  Your veterinarian can offer these services and should be consulted early and regularly.

Question

My horse has been lame for six weeks from a problem in the foot. My veterinarian has diagnosed a coffin bone fracture that continues to drain pus at the toe. We have been treating with antibiotics and bute, but the lameness continues to get better then worse at times.  What else can we do?

Answer

It sounds like your horse has a sequestrum or dead piece of bone.  This commonly happens secondary to a sole abscess or focal infection in the foot that secondarily infects the bone.  The bone becomes weakened and fragments, thus separating it from its normal blood supply.  It then dies and sequesters with infection surrounding it.  Small sequestrums can be absorbed or eliminated through the draining tract. Large sequestrums most often need to be surgically removed but, can occasionally heal back to the parent bone.  Ancillary  treatments include antibiotics, anti-inflamatories, and physical therapy (soaking and icing) as your veterinarian has appropriately prescribed. Complications if left untreated include laminitis, coffin joint infection, and hoof wall sloughing.