Agnote 394 No. J39 June 1996 Agdex No: 461/26 ISSN No: 0157-8243 The Horse's Teeth A Potential Cause of Problems P. Graham, formerly Extension Officer, Darwin INTRODUCTION As with other animals, horses may be subject to tooth problems. These problems have affects, not only on the horses health, they also may effect the rider. What initially appears to be a simple nutritional problem may, in fact, be the result of dental disorder. Efficient digestion starts with good teeth. SIGNS OF TEETH PROBLEMS The commonest dental disorder in the formation of sharp edges on the back teeth which cut the tongue and cheeks. The most obvious signs of this is sloppy or messy eating. Affected horses will drop feed (which may be partly chewed) and will usually eat slowly. A horse with this condition may develop digestion problems, resulting in weight loss and poor performance. A further sign of tooth trouble may be seen when the horse is being ridden. If a horse lugs, throws its head or generally tries to get away from the bit, it may be in pain from its teeth. To detect discomfort from sharp edged teeth pressure is gently applied on the cheek at the tooth line. The horse will react as the inner check is pressed onto the sharp edges. 2 CAUSES OF TOOTH PROBLEMS Some of the more common tooth problems of the horse may be attributed to: • Age • Genetics • Nutrition - feed types and composition - mineral deficiency • Grazing conditions • Feeding regime AGE A horse grown out on good pasture or hand-fed, with a balanced diet of protein, roughage and minerals, will normally maintain a good mouth until it is seven to nine years of age. When a horse is fed hard grain and hay that requires a lot of chewing sharp edges may develop in animals as young as two years of age. Old horses are likely to have tooth problems, and require more frequent attention. GENETICS Problems from this source are usually major faults such as twisted and deformed jaws. In most instances these can not be corrected and should be noted when purchasing a new horse or as soon as a foal is handled. Horses with these problems should not be used for breeding. NUTRITION Horses raised on country low in calcium and phosphorous will often exhibit tooth abnormalities, even relatively early in life. This is one particular problem horse owners in the Top End need to consider when they have lateritic soils and poor dry season native pasture. GRAZING CONDITIONS Owners should keep an eye on pasture height. If the horse is allowed graze too close to the ground, it will pick up soil and sand. Constant grazing in this fashion damages teeth and will cause sand colic. FEEDING REGIMES The same problem arises when horses are fed in small areas such as yards, stables and stalls if they are able to spill feed onto the ground and then consume it from there. The abrasive affect on teeth is marked. In addition, as with low grazing, the horse becomes a candidate for sand impaction or sand colic. CORRECTION AND PREVENTION Sharp teeth are generally rasped to remove the offending edges. Great care is required otherwise the tooth problem may be intensified. If, however, the owner/rider is doing the job rasping should only continue until the points have been reduced and the rasp slides over the teeth without jagging. 3 It must be stressed that specialised skills and tools are required to do a thorough job. The horse requires a balanced diet, one which includes sufficient minerals and vitamins. Apart from the normal feed-stuffs the inclusion of calcium in the form of commercial additives or as meat and bone meal should be considered. Problems with teeth can cost owner/riders money in wasted feed and veterinary fees. • Check teeth regularly • Check the horse's nutritional status • Have a skilled person do the tooth rasping when necessary. Please visit us on our website at www.primaryindustry.nt.gov.au While all care has been taken to ensure that information contained in this Agnote is true and correct at the time of publication, the Northern Territory of Australia gives no warranty or assurance, and makes no representation as to the accuracy of any information or advice contained in this publication, or that it is suitable for your intended use. No serious, business or investment decisions should be made in reliance on this information without obtaining independent/or professional advice in relation to your particular situation.