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Dental care in the winter months

The winter months can be a real challenge for owners of horses with compromised dentition. The decline in pasture means alternative forages are required and they tend to be coarser, less digestible and require more chewing which is not easy if your teeth aren’t great! Dental issues can be due to old age but increasingly diastemas are affecting younger horses too. These are the abnormal gaps between teeth where horse feed can get stuck and cause the tooth to decay.

How To Look After Your Horse’s Teeth

An annual or 6 monthly check up is sufficient for most horses and ponies. The vet or dentist will float the teeth, which involves filing off any sharp edges or hooks that can form on the edge of the teeth. Research has shown that the type of horse feed used can influence the formation of sharp edges – high fibre feeds tend to encourage a fuller range of movement of the jaw which is less likely to result in hooks forming compared to mixes or pelleted horse feed.

Horses are like humans in that they can sometimes run into problems with their teeth throughout their lifetime and may require the dentist to visit more regularly. Therefore, it’s important that you look out for any signs of problems such as quidding (where the horse feed is dropped from the mouth as the horse eats), struggling to eat, head tossing, inability to go on the bit, bit chewing or losing weight significantly that isn’t through exercise. If several of these issues are apparent then it is definitely time to get the vet or dentist in to take a look! 

Forage solutions for horses with poor teeth 

If a horse can no longer manage long length forage such as hay and haylage there are alternatives available. Short chopped fibres can be easier to manage and can be fed in conjunction with high fibre horse feeds that are soaked to form a mash. These range in their calorie levels and so it is important to pick the right one according to the horse’s bodyweight and condition. Those based on straw and other cereal by-products such as oatfeed and wheatfeed, tend to be lower calorie horse feeds and are ideal for good doers. Horse feeds based on alfalfa and sugar beet are more digestible and so provide more calories for poorer doers and older horses and ponies. 

As you can see, it’s essential that your horse has their teeth checked regularly and that you are looking out for signs of infection or problems so you can deal with them early before they become a major problem. As we enter the winter, think about whether your horse has had their teeth checked recently and get them booked in soon if not. If you would like to find out more information, speak to an equine dentist, vet or nutritionist.

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