Horse and stable owners are always looking for something that will keep their horses from chewing wood, whether it is the stall, run-in shed or fences. Research from New Zealand accepted for publication in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior, which is available for purchase or lease online, shows promise in using capsaicin to reduce wood licking or chewing behaviors.
Capsaicin is a component of chili peppers. Many horse owners have used a combination of chili powder and something like Vaseline mixed together to keep horses from chewing on bandages. Now it seems that “spicy” component of chili peppers might help not only keep horses from chewing wood, but providing a “learned” aversion to the capsaicin.
The researchers found that when a horse interacted with a capsaicin repellent, it reduced licking/chewing behaviors. They also noted a “learned aversion” after being exposed to the capsaicin product that kept them from being so intent on licking and chewing in the future. The researchers noted that more study is needed on capsaicin products for horses.
Following is the Abstract of that research paper.
Capsaicin, a component of chili peppers, is a natural repellent for many mammals due to it being an irritant to the nasal and oral areas. We tested whether topical application of capsaicin in a commercially available product caused aversion to licking and chewing of wood by horses, and hence might potentially prevent crib biting. Ten non- wood chewing horses underwent three sequential trials involving the presentation of different treatments applied to a clean piece of wood (wooden block). Initially horses were exposed to molasses only, followed by equal proportions of molasses and the capsaicin product (Equi Stop®), and then a return to molasses only. The addition of capsaicin to molasses caused a significant reduction in the frequency of licking/chewing of a standardised wooden block and was associated with significant increases in behaviors that may be associated with equine irritation, including rubbing and head shaking, plus the nasal investigative behavior of flehmen response. The combination of both the reduction of licking/chewing of the wooden block and the increase in irritation and nasal investigation behaviors suggest that capsaicin may be an effective repellent for horses chewing wood. The significantly lower licking/chewing rates of wooden blocks coated with molasses only at the end of the trial sequence compared to that at the start suggests a learned aversion post exposure to capsaicin, at least in some horses. This capsaicin based product has the potential as a management tool for reducing the incidence of wood chewing and possibly crib biting in horses.
Researchers were J.P. Aley, N.J. Adams, R. Ladyman, and D.L. Fraser of the Animal Welfare and Biodiversity Management Research Group, Department of Natural Sciences, Unitec, Private Bag 92025, Victoria Street West, Auckland, 1142, New Zealand.