The horse that's grazing in the pasture is filling his tummy, but he's also using that grass to keep his constantly-growing teeth at the right level and in good shape. You want to be sure that his mouth and teeth stay healthy with routine dental exams.
Jenifer Nadeau is an equine specialist at the University of Connecticut, and says dental care for your horse should start somewhere between birth and 18-months of age.
"When you're looking at the young horse, you're just looking for any defects that the horse might have been born with, and that's really related to its head symmetry, or it's chewing function, making sure that the teeth have properly erupted, making sure that the incisors or front teeth are properly aligned, making sure there aren't any sharp points that are going to prevent the foal from being comfortable when it begins eating," says Nadeau. "And, making sure that there isn't improper position or number of teeth, and just looking for abnormal wear."
All horses should have a dental checkup at least once-per-year, but it's also up to the owner to be observant and notice any changes in behavior or eating habits that might be related to the teeth. Some changes may be subtle. Others will be easier to detect.
"One of the things will be just looking at the manure, you'll see long, unchewed particles of hay in the manure," says Nadeau. "You might see changes in their eating or drinking habits, you might see some head shaking, some resistance to the bit, some reluctance to eat hay, just using one side of the mouth for chewing or holding their head in an abnormal position, some strange slurping sounds. And you can see quidding, where they drop partially-chewed food from their mouth."
Call a veterinarian or an equine dentist. Nadeau suggests checking with the International Association of Equine Dentistry for a specialist in your area. Word-of-mouth or referrals are good ways to find an equine dentist.
Here is a list of equine dentists in each state
Learn more about your horse's teeth and what problems to watch for
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