It is often quite clear that your horse is in need of a dental check up but sometimes the signs evolve over a long period and can be missed, it is important that you consider dental problems if you see any changes in behaviour or condition. As with all health matters prevention is better than cure, routine visits from your equine dental technician should mean your horse should not suffer the pain of dental problems and the owner the pain of paying for remedial treatments.
Common signs of equine dental problems
- A change in chewing habits
- Soaking food in water before chewing
- Holding the head to one side when chewing
- Reduced appetite
- Avoidance of certain foods
- Swallowing before chewing
- Choking while feeding
- Quiding (dropping rolled semi-chewed food from the mouth)
- Colic and indigestion
- Production of excess saliva
- Swelling around the jaw and face
- Bad breath (well worse than normal!)
- Refusal to drink cold water
- Resistance to take the bit
- Poor control when riding
- Poor reaction to rein commands
- Formation of stress behaviours
- Head tossing and rearing
- Poorly chewed and digested fibrous material in faeces
Causes of common dental problems in horses
In the wild horses with major dental problems refuse to eat, starve and die and are so less likely to pass their genes onto a new generation, this process of natural selection is important in ensuring each generation is better suited to the environment than the last.
For thousands of years humans have domesticated and used horses for their strength or their speed, and have looked after them meaning that genetic time-bombs can be passed onto the next generation. Humans have selectively bred, choosing the fastest or the strongest animals from each generation to form the next, over the years the domestic horse has seen many mutations which has resulted in stronger, faster, calmer horses, better suited to working with us. This breeding has seldom been for the benefit of the horse, but for the benefit of us and concerns such as tooth alignment have been overlooked in the quest to build the best horse for us.
A common genetic condition is malocclusion where the horse upper and lower teeth do not align and cause incorrect bite problems. These problems are commonly exhibited in the following conditions:
- Parrot Mouth, the upper incisors protrude infront of the lower
- Sow Mouth, the opposite of parrot mouth, like a bulldog
- Shear Mouth, where the upper jaw is wider than the lower
Treatment by a qualified and experienced equine dental technician can reduce the problems associated with these conditions by removing the sharp edges formed by the continuing growth past the surface of the opposite arcade due to lack of alignment. See our brief on the horse dental treatments page for how we attempt to reduce these problems. Animals with genetic conditions of the mouth and teeth may require more frequent routine visits in order to prevent associated complications, we can discuss a plan to suit your horses needs.
Other than genetic conditions the life style of the modern domestic horse als has a significant part to play in many conditions requiring the attention of a equine dental technician, chiefly the fact that the modern horse is fed on a mix of forage and concentrate feeds. Due to the lazy eating habits of the modern horse they spend much less time feeding than the wild horse causing less abrasion to the teeth allowing for the sharp edges and other malformations to arise. Domestic horses often outlive their wild brothers, often significantly and geriatric horses require additional equine dental attention.