Friday, March 4, 2011

All horses - young and old and in between - need dental checks

One of the most dangerous myths about horse ownership is the belief that only old horses need dental work. That is so far from the truth.

Also, you should not wait until a horse is dropping weight or having trouble chewing. I mean, if that is happening by all means immediately take your horse to the Vet for a dental check.
But what is really recommended, what responsible horse owners do, is to have their horses' teeth checked once or twice a year.

The thing is, if you correct an emerging problem right away before it has a chance to do damage, you have a much better chance that your horse will have good teeth until his life ends. If he continues to try to chew and eat with uneven bite, sharp points, hooks, painful ulcers that often result from these, the wear on his teeth will not be normal. And this will lead to other problems such as poor nutrition, weight loss, loss of teeth early in life, and on and on and on.
For me, I have enough chores to do and if I can avoid the making mash because my Seniors don't have any teeth left, then that's what I'm going to do.
At New Hope Horse Shelter, we have the Vet come out twice a year anyway to check all the horses and do shots, etc.  So the horses here get their teeth checked twice a year. If they are fine there is no charge for the dental check.
We are lucky to have Dakota Large Animal Clinic nearby (Harrisburg, SD, 605 338-5558). they have 3 Equine Practitioners there so one is always on call. But they also have modern equipment. including for dental work. No more of that manual grinding. It's just easier on everyone with the modern powered equipment. easier on the Doc, the horse, and the horse owner too.
Our young horses usually have some type of dental work done during their first few years of life. Our Vets say it is as common in young horses as old horses. Maybe even moreso.

We pay close attention as the young horses are losing temp. teeth and the new ones are coming in. that doesn't always go quite right and sometimes the teeth need work during this critical development time.

But there really is no rule to what age horses need dental work. The rule for responsible horse owners is that horses need dental checks often throughout their entire life. And sometimes the checks will reveal that work is needed.

One of our rescued horses, Prince, had his teeth floated something like 6 times in his first 4 years. Of course his whole development program was screwed up because he had lived in a state of starvation for the first year and a half of his life. But so had his half sister, and she didn't have near the dental problems as he did.

On the other end, our 29 and 27 year olds have beautiful teeth for their age. They have all of their teeth and no signs of trouble. We have owned these two for 20 years and so they have had dental checks once or twice a year for the past 20 years. No idea what their dental history was before that time. We have not even had to go to a more easy-to-chew type senior feed or anything. they eat what the rest of the herd eats. So far.

So, when we hear comment s like, "geez I wonder why my horse is losing weight and not eating very much. He can't need dental work already; he's only 6 or 4 or 2 or 12" or whatever age is inserted in there. That's just not right.

Horses of every age need dental checks. If you want to do everything you can for your horse and for you, so you have the best chance possible of your horse not needing too much in the way of a special, time-consuming, expensive  feeding program as he grows older, get his teeth checked regularly. Like all things horsey, there is no guarantee. But we can darn sure better our/their chances with regular dental checks by an equine veterinarian who knows what to look for.

I actually cannot imagine sticking a bit in a young horse's mouth without having a thorough dental check done first. A few years ago there was a survey among top trainers in the country. They figured that 80some percent of all training/behavior problems were dental related.  It's nice to rule that out first before you start some harsh correcting on a horse when the only thing going on is the bit is causing a great deal of pain.

So there are all kinds of reasons to let youself spend a little bit of money each year to ensure your horses' teeth are good.
Doesn't matter if he's a baby or an old man. Don't wait until he goes off feed. That's one of the things we are trying to prevent! Can you imagine being so hungry but just not being able to eat because it hurts too much to chew? It happens.  And it happens to horses of all ages.