Why is My Horse Chewing His Feet?
I have a wonderful pinto quarter-pony cross (probably some Arab or Welsh). He is in all aspects a normal horse, except for one thing: he chews his feet. And not just the occasional itch. That's what we thought it was to begin with, because he has thin skin and it was fly season. But this is on the verge of self-mutilation.
It started only a few months after we got him. I started to notice small gouges on his front hooves. This progressed and he would chew so much he’d bleed. It was worst in summer (which was why we originally thought it was flies), and the first summer we had him he got a systemic infection from it. He was quite the sick pony for awhile. He was on antibiotics for several months and his white hair fell out. We thought we got him over it and hoped we were done. But he did it last summer, too, though we were able to prevent the major problems by putting fly boots on him that fit around his hooves.
Now he is starting again, but much earlier this year (we don't have flies yet). He's already bruised his left coronet and cracked that foot. I’m not sure what to do and I don’t know why he's doing this. Do you have any ideas about why he’s doing this or how to stop it?
Alex , I wish I was able to see the behavior, as it would better help me to diagnose his issue. Certainly place those fly boots back on so that he does not self-mutilate, but we also need to get to the cause.
These issues often have medical causes, so step one is to have a vet specialist examine and culture your horse's skin, as well do blood tests to look for systemic and allergy issues. One thought is that there is some early-growing plant that may be causing some sort of contact dermatitis.
If the tests reveal no answers, you need to look for other stressors that may be causing the behavior. If your pony is alone, this may be the root of the behavior. Equines are herd animals, and singletons often have significant stereotypic behaviors such as repetitive behavior you are seeing. Bringing in a companion might decrease or eliminate the behavior. Boredom is another trigger for these types of behaviors, so be sure to read through my column to find enrichment ideas to use to help him, as well.