Taking good care of your horse’s teeth is so important to their overall well-being. So today, we’re sharing this content from our blog No horsing around with dental health.
You’ve probably heard the expression, “Never look a gift horse in the mouth.” It’s an old proverb that relates to evaluating the age and health of a horse by looking at its teeth. At the Ontario SPCA, looking into the mouths of the horses that come into our care comes with the territory and is essential to ensuring our equines thrive.
If you have a dog or cat at home, you know that your veterinarian will examine their mouth to look for decay, broken teeth or dental disease. Horses get the same treatment, but need a little extra maintenance called “floating.”
The daily grind
Unlike a human’s teeth, a horse’s molars and premolars – known as cheek teeth – slowly erupt throughout most of its life. That constant “growth” is worn down at a rate of two to three millimeters per year as the horse chews its food using a side-to-side grinding motion. It sounds like the perfect grinding system – except for one issue. The horse’s lower jaw is narrower than its upper jaw, which leads to the formation of sharp points along the edges of the teeth. Sometimes those points can become so sharp that a horse will lose weight because eating becomes painful.
Older horses and horses with dental abnormalities may have additional issues that must be maintained or corrected. Senior equines often suffer from broken or missing teeth. Other common issues include under-bite and over-bite.
Dental health: Floating is the fix
Just as you go to the dentist, horses require regular oral examinations. Every horse is different, but many veterinarians recommend an annual examination to look for any problems. They also check to see if floating is necessary. Floating is the rasping or filing of any sharp points on the teeth that could cut the horse’s cheek or tongue. The objective is to create symmetry in the horse’s mouth to allow them to chew freely.
When floating is required, the veterinarian will often sedate the horse. This reduces stress on the horse and makes it easier to work on the animal’s teeth. A mouth speculum is often used to hold the horse’s mouth open during the procedure. It might sound like a painful procedure, but the nerve endings in a horse’s teeth are not near the surface of the tooth.
Good health starts in the mouth
Some of the horses that come into the care of the Ontario SPCA only require a routine float. Others require more extensive dental work. It’s an essential part of preparing horses for adoption. It’s also a responsibility adopters must be prepared for if they decide to adopt a horse as part of their horses’ annual checkup.
So the next time you hear the expression, “Never look a gift horse in the mouth,” you’ll have some facts about horse health care to impress your friends and family.