Common Horse Teeth Problem
Dental care for horses starts at an early age and is an area which needs attention for the entire life of your horse.
Horses, like humans, have 2 sets of teeth during their lifetime.
The initial deciduous teeth, commonly called baby teeth, some of which the foal may be born with and will continue to come through until about 8 months of age.
At around 2 1/2 – 3 years of age the baby teeth will start to be replaced by the horses permanent set of teeth. This can take anywhere from 2 – 3 years to be complete.
The horses permanent set of teeth consist of 40 for geldings and stallions and typically only 36 – 40 for mares. Mare often do not have canine teeth (also called bridle teeth).
Many people think horses teeth keep growing through their life but this isn’t true, and you will often find senior horses with teeth missing.
Below we will go through the common horse teeth problems during the lifetime of your horse and what you can do to keep your horses mouth as healthy as possible.
The most common problem with young horses is called “capping”. This is where a deciduous (baby) tooth become lodged over the top of a permanent tooth as the come through. Often this will involve the back teeth and is often difficult to see.
Signs that your youngster is having capping problems include:
- Head tossing or carrying their head tilted to one side
- Spitting or dropping grain, grass or hay when eating
- Drooling or foam either occasionally, or constantly
- Strange action when chewing or may hold tongue out to the side
If you notice any of these signs call your equine dentist (if you have one) or your vet. They will remove the cap (baby tooth or teeth) and also check that the teeth are growing in otherwise normally. Occasionally a tooth may become infected, which can be painful and requires veterinary treatment with possible antibiotics.
Don’t be alarmed if you notice a gap in your young horses mouth where a tooth is missing during the growing out stage. It is quite common for some baby teeth to drop out before the mature teeth have come through. Don’t be alarmed.
The most common problem in horses from 5 years of age to seniority is the uneven wear of teeth over time which leads to hooks and sharp edges.
A horse teeth are said to “erupt” which simply means that the teeth are constantly pushing upwards, this is not a quick process and is usually somewhere from 2 – 4 millimeters a year. This is to combat the continuous wearing from chewing.
Our domestic horses generally do not graze as much as their wild counterparts, nor do they generally chew material which wears the teeth as well eg. soil, grass. Rather, the diets of hard feed and lucerne hay are not as wearing (oaten/wheaten hay does assist).
A horses normal chewing action will create sharp edges and hooks as the teeth wear unevenly and these need to be removed regularly. These sharp edges may cut into the horse’s cheeks or tongue, and can cause very painful sores which in come cases become infected.
The action of removing these edges and balancing the horses mouth is called “floating”. You may hear your equine dentist say after checking and feeling around the mouth that your horses teeth need to be floated.
This can either be done manually or some professionals will use power tools. Many horses are able to have their teeth done with very little behavioural issues. I have half and half in my stable, Jon will stand happily with the gag in his mouth while the dentist works away but Bill requires sedation from the moment the vet gets out of the car!
Some equine dentists are able to sedate your horse if required, and most horse vets are quite skilled at floating horses teeth and can sedate if required.
Symptoms of Mouth Issues
Most horses are very stoic, meaning they don’t show outward signs of pain, illness or discomfort. This is a hang over from long before domestication when the weak or injured were often picked off by predators, so it was wise to not give a lion or a bear any reason to think you were slow and an easy target.
Horse can have moderate to quite severe mouth problems without showing too many outward symptoms. Often with teeth or mouth issues once signs are obvious the problem is quite severe. Some signs you may notice, although there may be others, are:
- Quidding – dropping food when eating; or
- Packing – pushing food back into the cheeks or creating wads of hay when eating
- Head shyness including facial tenderness, reluctance to be touched around the jaw
- Bitting Issues – reluctance to accept the bit when bridling, not coming on to the bit when ridden, or excessive chewing on the bit
- Head tossing or carrying to one side
- Drooling – this may be frothy or just excess salivation, and can often only show on one side of the mouth
- Reluctance to eat or not eating at all – causing weight loss
- Nasal discharge – due to infection
- Colic or choke
Prevention is better than Cure
During horses mature years you should have your horses teeth checked annually, it may be that no further treatment is need during this check-up but it is always better to have them checked in case something is happening.
Your equine professional may suggest more regular check-up if your horses mouth is very irregular and likely to wear in a way as to cause the edges or hooks to occur sooner.
Once your horse is reaching his later years, and the age really depends on the horse but for simplicity we will say from the 20s onward, they may start to have increased mouth issues.
Older horses may start loosing their teeth, and this can have repercussions on how well they eat. Loss of molars (back teeth) can become a real concern as your horse ages.
Traditionally it is difficult to keep good weight on as your horse ages, and changes to diet need to be investigated which includes consideration of the quality (or lack thereof) of your horses teeth.
Another consideration for the aging horse is ensuring that they are still getting access to all the feed provided, especially if they have teeth problems which may mean they need a little longer to eat. Younger horses may take the opportunity to push a senior around and bully them off their feed, so make sure you consider who your senior is with and paddock them wisely.
All the same sings as those indicted above may be shown but the most common signs in older horses who are or have lost teeth include drooling, quidding and spilling of feed.
Generally as your horse ages you will look for more guidance on their general health and well-being from your vet and seeking advice on their teeth is no exception.
Keep on top of horse teeth care
Regular check-ups with an equine dental professional, who is experienced and that you trust, should form the basis of your horses teeth care. You can then be guided by your dentist or vet as to what is required and how often.
Keeping your horses teeth healthy will prolong their lives, make them happier companions and ensure their overall health.
We hope you have found the above common horse teeth problems informative, and as always if this has raised some questions for you please comment below and we will do our best to help you out.