In our previous newsletter, we covered the basics of what to look for when your horse needs a dental exam.  In the next few letters we will have a series available explaining in more detail the things to look for if your horse is having any dental issues.

Dropping feed  In the last newsletter, one of the first signs of dental trouble can be dropping feed.  Sharp enamel points from normal chewing can cause the horse to change how he eats.  The result…dropped feed.  Other issues might involve a fractured tooth, periodontal disease, foreign bodies or even masses in the mouth.

  • Fractured tooth: Many times a fractured tooth can be very painful to the horse.  They will tilt their head to manipulate the feed to another location in the mouth to avoid the pain and thereby dropping feed.  The fractured tooth may also cause infection to occur.  This must be addressed by the veterinarian to eliminate the infection by removing the specific tooth and treating with antibiotics.
  • Periodontal disease: It has detrimental effects on the overall health, condition and performance of the horse. The disease most commonly affects aging horses.
  • Foreign bodies:  Even course long stem hay might be considered a foreign body that can penetrate the soft tissue of the mouth.  It too may cause infection and will need to be addressed by the veterinarian. Grass awns that come from mature grasses may also be considered a foreign body that may result in infection.
  • Masses in the mouth: Physical obstruction in the mouth causing the feed to be dropped.

The horse may also be dropping feed because he is just very busy with all that is going on in the barn.  Many times the horse will raise its head and look around, thus dropping feed.  It may not be the result of a problem with his teeth but a behavioral issue.  This type of behavior can be resolved by changing the type of feeder used in feeding the horse.  Some horses toss their feed while eating.  Again more behavioral than a physical issue.   Perhaps feeding meals at more frequent intervals and with less in the feeder will aid in “wasting” the feed.  Feeding 3 meals per day will also help regulate the “normal” feeding pattern that horses really need to have in their life.


Some horses might need to be separated from the rest of the herd during feeding.  If the horse is insecure and nervous about the other horse getting his feed, it may result in dropping feed.

By scheduling yearly dental checkups and exams, the veterinarian may prevent many concerns with just a routine dental float.   Consistent dental maintenance for your horse will assist in preventing those unexpected problems associated with  dental issues.

Suddenly not eating either hay or grain  In young horses, under 5 years old, pain before, during or after losing a baby tooth can make chewing unpleasant and difficult.  At 8 days, 8 weeks and 8 months, as a yearling, as a two year old, horses are erupting and shedding baby teeth.  As this occurs it can be painful and therefore cause the horse to stop eating hay and/or feed.  So the dental exam actually should begin when the horse is actually one week old!  And continue until he is a senior!


As the eruption of permanent teeth begins, the baby tooth may not erupt correctly.  This will cause pain and the horse will be reluctant to eat.  The veterinarian needs to be contacted to assess the concerns and resolve the issue as it may develop in to a more complicated problem.  If the cessation of eating hay or grain occurs in the older horse, an examination veterinarian will assist in finding the problem and resolving it.  If it’s a senior horse, perhaps the chewing surface of his cheek teeth is no longer capable of proper mastication of hay and/or grain.  Now is the time to reassess your senior horse’s feed ration.  A complete senior feed should be considered so that the proper nutrition is available to the horse.  If the senior is no longer able to masticate, his ration could be softened with water to allow the intake of the feed.

Dropping clumps of hay (quidding)  If you happen to notice wads of hay in your horse’s stall, you might want to consider that he may have a problem with his teeth.  This is a typical effect of pain keeping the horse from chewing properly thereby completely eating his hay or feed.  This can also be the result of decreased chewing surface area that occurs naturally with age.


Again, this is a sign that your horse may need a dental exam from the veterinarian.

Horses are creatures of habit.  So anything out of the ordinary in your horse’s behavior might be a sign that he needs a dental examination and checkup.

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