Self-Mutilation In Horses: A Violent Reaction To Pain?

by | 03.13.2019 | 10:14am

Horses can exhibit some startling behaviors in which they harm themselves; these behaviors are dubbed “self-mutilation,” where the horse inflicts serious self-harm. These behaviors are most likely the result of nutritional factors or the domestic environment, Dr. Sue McDonnell reports in The Horse.

Self-mutilation is uncontrollable violent behavior, which can include bucking, spinning in circles, and kicking out while biting at the chest, shoulders or flank. A horse may also throw his head or body into a wall or onto the ground. These episodes can last for a few seconds or a few minutes.

There are three types of self-mutilation: flank-biting or flank-sucking, intermale aggression and stereotypic.

Flank biting is an extreme behavioral response to physical discomfort. Once the potentially painful condition is removed, the behavior stops.

Self-directed intermale aggression is when two male horses meet they generally sniff and nip each other's flanks and genitals; in this type of self-mutilation, the horse does this to himself. This behavior is usually triggered by the smelling of his own manure or another stallions, or smelling a stallion on other surfaces. This behavior generally develops over time and continues for the rest of the horse's life.

The third type of self-mutilation is not as violent—it's repetitive nipping at various areas of the horse's body; it looks similar to stall-walking or weaving. It is theorized that this type of self-mutilation began during a period of physical discomfort, but has become a habit.

When treating self-mutilation, it's important to always look for a physical cause. If no physical cause can be determined, a number of different treatments may be used, including management changes, physical modalities to prevent self-mutilation and sometimes the use of pharmaceuticals.

Read more at The Horse.

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