Signs of dental dilemmas in your horse and the importance of healthy teeth

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Without healthy teeth horses can have difficulty eating, so ensuring they’re in good condition is vital.

Horses have evolved to be grazing herbivores, munching on grasses and forage for up to 18 hours a day.

It’s important that they chew and grind their food properly to allow the gut to perform at top efficiency during the digestion process.

By maximising surface area to volume ratio, the gut can use digestive enzymes and bacterial fermentation to maximise the nutrients gained from each mouthful. 

The daily grind

The rate of wear in horse’s teeth is influenced by diet, with incisors wearing faster than cheek teeth due to different types and strengths of enamel.

On average a horse’s teeth will wear between 2mm and 3mm a year.

The chewing cycle is a complicated process and, as such, any dental disease that may interrupt the cycle is significant and should be addressed as early as possible. 

Failures in the chewing cycle due to dental pain can cause weight loss, choke, colic and diarrhoea.

Signs of dental trouble

  • Quidding (dropping food)

  • Refusing to eat

  • Hamster-like pouching of food in cheeks

  • Facial swellings

  • Discharge and/or smell from the nostrils

  • Halitosis (smelly breath)

  • Weight loss

  • Resistance to the bridle, evading the bit and refusal to go forward

  • Changes in behaviour due to pain (for example, grumpiness, bucking, rearing or napping when ridden)

  • Headshaking

  • Colic

  • Choke

Remarkably, despite severe dental disease some horses may show none of the above signs. Therefore, it is important horses receive a dental examination at least annually, performed by a suitable professional.

The focus of the routine dental check-up is on general health, hygiene and prevention – aiming to spot potential problems early and deal with them.

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