My horse is dropping his feed. He doesn’t like the bit. My horse just isn’t thriving. Why is he so head shy?
Comments like these from horse owners always make me think that their horse needs a thorough oral/dental examination. Just like us, a horse needs its teeth to chew and prepare food for digestion and, of course, this is a daily occurrence. If the horse’s teeth are malformed, chewing and processing food become difficult and the horse will not thrive.
A horse’s teeth, unlike ours, erupt continually throughout its life. As the horse eats, it will wear down the surface of the erupting teeth. Unfortunately, the chewing surface of the horse’s teeth often does not wear at the same rate. This can lead to the formation of sharp points on the edges of the teeth, tooth hooks, waves, and other dental abnormalities. These sharp points that form on the edges of the teeth are particularly troubling because they can cut the inside of the cheek and the edge of the tongue. This makes eating without pain difficult.
Fortunately, there is something that can be done. Dental equilibration or ‘teeth floating’, is a procedure that removes the sharp points from the teeth which allows the cheek and tongue to heal. The procedure is not painful to the horse but it can cause the horse to protest. Proper teeth floating generally require that the horse be sedated. A device called a full-mouth speculum is used to hold the horse’s mouth open so the veterinarian can examine and access the teeth. The veterinarian will then use a collection of special instruments to remove the points and return the teeth to a normal shape. A qualified veterinarian can perform this procedure in 15 minutes or less. If the horse has more serious dental issues, it may require several visits by the veterinarian.
As with most health issues, prevention is better that treatment. Most horses should have their teeth floated once a year.