Causal factors of oral versus locomotor stereotypy in the horse

Kirsty Roberts, Andrew J. Hemmings, Sebastian D. Mcbride, Matthew O. Parker

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Stereotypic behaviors are commonly observed in domestic equids as they are in a range of captive nondomesticated species. Estimates suggest that 19.5%-32.5% of horses perform a stereotypy. The presence of these behaviors is thought to indicate suboptimal welfare status and can result in secondary physical pathologies, such as colic, ligament strain, and incisor wear. Relatively little is understood about the etiologies of oral and locomotor stereotypies. Seemingly disparate causal factors have been proposed, including gastric pathology, neural adaptation, and genetic predisposition. In this review, we propose a model of causality that presents separate pathways to the development and continuation of oral behaviors such as crib-biting, compared with locomotor alternatives (i.e., weaving). The word stereotypy has alarmingly negative connotation among horse keepers. Stereotypic behaviors are often viewed as vices, and therefore, a number of horse owners and establishments attempt to physically prevent the behavior with harsh mechanical devices. Such interventions can result in chronic stress and be further detrimental to equine welfare. Stereotypy has been proposed to be a stress coping mechanism. However, firm evidence of coping function has proven elusive. This review will explore management options directed at both prophylaxis and remediation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)37-43
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Veterinary Behavior
Early online date10 Jul 2017
Publication statusEarly online - 10 Jul 2017


  • crib-biting
  • weaving
  • striatum
  • dopamine


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