February is Equine Dental Health Month, so Let’s Ask Dr. Michelle about your horse’s teeth.
Question: Dr. Michelle, how do I know if my horse’s teeth are getting enough attention?
Answer: “That’s a really great question! If you aren’t having a dental exam performed by your vet at least every year, the answer is ‘probably not’! Many horse owners are not aware of how important routine dental exams are for their horse’s overall health and wellness. Dental disease and abnormalities can and do affect nearly every part of your horse’s body and behavior. Zoetis Equine Health conducted a survey of 4500 horse owners in 2020. They discovered that 73% of the horse owners they surveyed had horses with signs of dental pain and 22% of the survey participants had not had a dental exam for their horses in more than one year.”
Question: Why is it so important to have routine dental exams for my horse?
Answer: “Your horse’s mouth is constantly changing as teeth erupt and wear. Without proper maintenance, oral abnormalities like sharp edges, abnormal tooth eruptions, or irregular tooth wear can lead to pain, problems with chewing and digesting feed, behavior issues, and more. If a horse’s teeth do not function well, it will be unable to eat properly and its overall health may be at risk."
Question: What signs should I be watching for between dental exams?
Answer: “That’s another great question! I believe that you know your horse better than anyone, and you will be the first one to recognize changes that could be a signal from your horse that something is not right with them. Here are some signs your horse may have dental issues:
- Loss of appetite or weight or a general loss of condition
- Difficulty or slowness in eating and a reluctance to drink cold water
- Holding its head to one side as if it is in pain
- Dropping grain or hay from its mouth
- Your horse may ‘quid’ – this is when a horse forms its food into a ball in its mouth, and then drops the food after it has been partially chewed.
- Signs of uncrushed, unchewed grain in your horse’s manure
- Excessive drooling
- Blood-tinged mucus in the mouth
- Bad breath
- Nasal discharge from one nostril
- Swelling of the face or jaw
- Evading the bit
- Head-shaking, lolling tongue, or opening its mouth when being ridden or driven with a bit
- Resistance to bridling
- Being withdrawn or avoiding social interaction with other horses and people
- Having an intense stare or aggressive behavior
- Poor performance, such as a decline in athletic ability”
Question: How often do you recommend I have my horse’s teeth examined?
Answer: “The American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) strongly recommends annual oral and dental exams as part of your horse’s routine care. But depending on your horse’s age, level of performance, and overall condition, more frequent exams throughout the year may be needed. My best advice is to ask your equine vet what their best recommendation is for your horse. This is not necessarily a ‘one-size-fits-all’ situation!”
Question: Can you tell us a little more about what happens during a routine equine oral exam?
Answer: “A routine equine dental exam takes approximately 10 to 30 minutes and requires your horse to be sedated and the use of a full-mouth speculum for safety. Your vet will assess the internal and external structure of your horse’s teeth, palates, and gums. Depending on what your vet discovers, the dental exam may also involve taking x-rays and/or floating your horse’s teeth.”
Question: What is the cost of a routine dental exam?
Answer: “The cost varies from vet to vet. The Holistic Veterinary Options charge for routine dental exams and floats ranges from $250 to $350 plus the farm call fee and any additional diagnostic fees. We do offer a discount for people who have more than one horse! It’s been my personal experience that it’s much easier to invest in an exam that will allow us to treat and resolve any issues early on. Skimping on this very important aspect of your horse’s routine veterinary care can often have a very expensive and painful end result.”
Question: Is there anything else I can do to help preserve my horse’s dental health?
Answer: “I encourage people to spread out your horse’s feedings if possible. This tends to lower their stress level and keeps their guts moving. Grazing all day (a species-specific behavior for horses) also helps with proper chewing and tooth wear, and this helps preserve your horse’s dental health.”
Thank you so much for sharing all of this with us, Dr. Michelle!
To schedule a dental exam for your horse, please call the Holistic Veterinary Options office at 608-432-2522.