“It’s normal for horses to be a little under weight after winter.”
When I was a kid, I used to hear that all the time at trail riding ranches and from weekend horsemen. It’s a myth. Unless your horse is very old or very young, he’s perfectly equipped to thrive in the winter. Shelter, water and good-quality feed is all your horse needs to stay warm and maintain a healthy weight. If you provide these three things to your horse, and he still looks ribby or hippy when his winter coat sheds out, start looking for the source of his weight loss. I suggest you start with his teeth.
Why do I need to get my horse’s teeth checked?
From the day he stops nursing until the day he dies, you horse is constantly using his teeth to grind up hay and grain (and occasionally bite his pasture mates and chew on your fence line). The grinding slowly wears down the teeth, so they must grow continuously throughout your horse’s life. That, combined with the fact that the horse’s upper jaw is slightly wider than the lower jaw, can cause uneven wearing on the upper and lower molars. Uneven wearing can lead to sharp edges, which will abrade the inside of the horse’s cheeks and cause ulcers. Ulcers put the horse at risk for developing an infection. They can also discourage your horse from thoroughly chewing his food, making it difficult for his body to fully absorb the nutrients in his hay and grain. Your veterinarian will file down (float) any rough edges on the teeth so your horse can chew properly and without pain.
What are some signs that might indicate a dental problem?
Aside from weight loss, there are a number of other symptoms of ulcers and sharp edges on the teeth. They include the appearance of undigested grain in the manure, quantities of food dropping out of the horse’s mouth when he eats, excessive salivation, excessive fussing during bridling, abnormal nasal discharge and bad breath.
What’s involved in floating the teeth?
Your vet will usually feel around in the horse’s mouth to determine if floating is required. Then, they will sedate the horse and fix a special halter and mouth opened to the horse’s head. Almost all horses will need to be sedated to have their teeth floated – I’ve only met one horse that would tolerate a mouth opener without sedation. The special halter allows the vet to elevate the horse’s head by attaching a lead rope and swinging it over the top of the stall door or a cross beam in the barn. For small burrs on the teeth, your vet may use a hand file to rasp the edges smooth. For large hooks, your vet will likely use a float attached to a power drill to speed up the process and reduce stress on the horse. Leave the horse in his stall until the sedation wears off. He won’t require any recovery time after a routine floating.
How often should I get my horse’s teeth checked?
Many sources recommend getting your horse’s teeth checked when your veterinarian is out for spring vaccinations. However, if possible, I prefer to get my horse’s teeth checked in October or November. That way, my horse is heading into the winter with the healthiest set of chompers possible, and I know he’s going to get the most nutrition from his food. As an added bonus, most vets can quickly clean a sedated gelding’s sheath for an extra $40 or so.