Is Your Horse Acting Out, Having Trouble Eating and Drinking? Time for a Dental Checkup!

Horse's teeth showing need for dental work.
Horse's teeth showing need for dental work. Araine

Newsdate: Tuesday, September 21, 2021 - 10:35 am
Location: GILROY, CA

For many owners, horse dental care is not at the top of their priority list when it comes to caring for their horses. In fact, horse dental care is often an after thought brought on only when the horse has developed problems with eating, drinking, and "acting out" in uncharacteristic ways.

Equine dentist checking horse's mouth

Equine dentist checking horse's mouth

Benefits of regular horse dental care include improved health, performance, a reduction in feed costs, and a reduction or elimination of annoying habits such as head tossing. resisting the bit, and rearing.

Although your horse can't tell you in words when it has a toothache or dental problem, you, as an observant owner, can tell when your horse needs dental help through its actions and its general state of health.

Generally, checkups should occur approximately every six months, but the dental needs of any particular horse should be the basis for scheduling periodic checkups and floatings of teeth. 

Ten common signs that your horse needs dental care 

  • Weight Loss
  • Chronic Colic
  • Drooling
  • Quidding
  • Abnormal Chewing
  • Nasal Discharge
  • Foul Breath
  • Resisting the Bit
  • Rearing
  • Head Tossing or tilting 

A change in chewing habits is the most obvious sign of dental problems. The horse may  dribble feed, soak feed in a water bucket, hold the head to one side when eating, or not eat at all especially when it comes to hard grain or coarse hay.

The horse may "quid" the food, a process during which the food, particularly hay  is rolled into balls rather than being properly masticated. The balls of food often fall out of the horse's mouth and drop on the ground.

Rather than chew with a painful mouth the horse may try to swallow before chewing is complete. This may contribute to choke, colic, indigestion and weight loss.

In some cases a horse may limit its intake of water because of the pain involved which may result in serious harm to overall general health. Many times it is necessary  to give horses with dental discomfort warm water during extreme cold weather to get them to drink. 

A  horse with dental problems may become very nervous and develop habits such as cribbing and stall weaving.

Under saddle, a horse may toss his head, lunge, rear and generally be unsettled and unwilling to perform correctly and consistently.

Fractured teeth, teeth with exposed pulp cavities, periodontal disease and abscesses are other common equine dental problems.

The best dental care for horses depends on a regularly scheduled dental checkup and floating of teeth by a veterinarian or a credentialed dental technician. Just as in a human dental checkup, the horse dentist or technician will examine the entire oral cavity of the horse to determine the health status not only of the teeth, but also the gums, tissues, and other features of the horse's head and mouth.

Based on the examination, the horse dentist or technician will then discuss the horse's dental health and the need for any dental work with the horse's owner.

Benefits of regular horse dental care include:

  • Improved health and comfort with maintenance of ideal weight
  • Improved performance 
  • Improved feed efficiency with a reduction in feed costs.
  • Reduction or elimination of annoying habits such as head tossing. resisting the bit, and rearing.

Without good dental health, your horse's performance and well-being are severely affected. Peak performance and harmony between horse and rider go hand in hand with regular dental care and attention to any developing problems before they become serious enough to affect the horse's health or compromise his well-being.

About the Author

Flossie Sellers

Author picture

As an animal lover since childhood, Flossie was delighted when Mark, the CEO and developer of EquiMed asked her to join his team of contributors.

She enrolled in My Horse University at Michigan State and completed a number of courses in everything related to horse health, nutrition, diseases and conditions, medications, hoof and dental care, barn safety, and first aid.

Staying up-to-date on the latest developments in horse care and equine health is now a habit, and she enjoys sharing a wealth of information with horse owners everywhere.