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Oklahoma State University
Center for Veterinary Health Sciences

Healthy Animals - Healthy People

Horses and the Dentist

Thursday, January 14 2016

A Dr. checking horses teeth

Is it time for my horse to visit the veterinary dentist? Smelly breath in dogs and cats often encourages us to take them to the veterinarian for a dental exam. Back to school is a reminder for our children to visit the dentist. Are there reminders for horses?

Young horses often have their wolf teeth removed and their teeth checked when they are started under saddle. Wolf teeth can often interfere with the bit. Since they do not serve any real purpose for the horse, removing them does not disrupt chewing.

Horses continue to shed “baby” teeth and will not have a complete set of permanent teeth until they are 5 years old. Unlike human teeth, horse teeth continue to erupt and wear down from chewing over the life span of the horse.

There are several signs owners can watch for that may indicate some form of dental disease or problem that needs veterinary attention:

  • Loss of weight especially if the horse is on a diet of grain and hay
  • Dropping food while eating. “Quidding” is the term used to describe the cigar sized “plugs” of dropped feed
  • Nasal discharge from one nostril usually with no accompanying cough
  • Eating slowly, horse holds its head to one side while eating, or other abnormal chewing patterns
  • Slow to eat hay or dunking hay in water
  • Eats pelleted feed fine
  • Horse wets feed
  • Horse demonstrates difficulty with position of its head under the saddle, poor collection, resistance when moving in circles
  •  Fussy with the bridle or bit, head tossing
  • Swelling on the face or lower jaw
  • Foul odor from horse’s mouth

Youngsters under the age of 5 years may need dental exams twice a year. Performance horses or those with problem mouths may benefit from an annual or bi-annual exam.

Owners who watch and observe their horses closely may detect problems before they reach a level requiring extensive treatment.

Regular dental care will keep your horse healthy and happy. Make an appointment today with your veterinarian for your horse’s dental checkup.

by Elisabeth Giedt, DVM


Veterinary Viewpoints is provided by the faculty of the OSU Veterinary Medical Hospital.  Certified by the American Animal Hospital Association, the hospital is open to the public providing routine and specialized care for all species and 24-hour emergency care, 365 days a year.