With cold weather bearing down, now is the time to assess older horses for proper dental care and nutritional status. Horses burn significantly more calories in colder weather staying warm than they do in the warmer months. Because of this, they need to eat more, which also places strain on their teeth and jaw. Also, as horses in the winter are chewing hay instead of grass, which is soft, they must chew with more force, increasing the pressure on teeth and jaws.
It's important to have a horse's teeth checked carefully and attended to with a routine dental float to be sure there are no underlying issues that may prevent the horse from chewing easily. For older horses, now may also be the time of year to consider changing from hay to soaked hay cubes to ease the strain of eating.
Geriatric horses are also at risk of dental disease that can cause teeth to fall out or necessitate removal by a veterinarian. As horse teeth erupt at different ages, they expire at various times as well, which can lead to gaps between the teeth. This can cause abnormal wear patters and difficulty chewing.
These variations in teeth, combined with the rough texture of hay and the bacteria in a horse's mouth can lead to infections of the teeth below the gum line. This is an additional concern in the upper jaw as the bacteria can spread into the sinuses. Bacterial infections below the gum line can also loosen teeth, compounding the problem.
Senior horses need more-frequent checkups than their middle-aged counterparts. Signs that a horse may need a dental checkup include:
- bad breath
- dropping feed
- weight loss
- nasal discharge
Learn more about senior dental health at Equine Guelph.
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