It is a common occurrence that horse owners will think that if their horses go off their feed, have problems with choke, or drop lots of feed, then it is a problem with the feed. The feed is often not to blame…a horse’s dental health is. Dental care for horses is a key component to insuring he is receiving the full nutritional benefits of his ration.
When a horse chews, its jaw moves in a circular motion. This can cause sharp points on a horses teeth to form, causing pain when chewing. Also, lots of wear and tear can be put on a horse’s teeth throughout its life, requiring consistent dental examinations. The difference in eating hay and grain should also be noted. Horses are meant to graze for many hours during the day consistently. Unfortunately, this is not the case for many stabled horses in competition. These horses are usually fed two times a day with some hay and grain thrown to them. Some people choose to include a third feeding, but even still, it is not very close to how horses are designed to function regarding the consumption of roughage. Because of the added stress put on teeth because of how we keep domestic horses these days, horse owners need to make sure their horses are getting dental examinations twice a year. Some horses might even require more attention than that including senior horses with bad teeth or horses in very heavy competition.
Although prevention is the best course of action to take regarding dental health, if you do have a horse with dental problems, there are several management strategies that you can take. First, always look for soft, leafy hay that can be easily chewed. Second, moisten pelleted feed when giving grain, and ideally feed a senior feed that is a complete feed. Complete feeds can help make up for the lack of fiber for a horse that is having difficulty eating roughage. Also, adding some vegetable oil to a horse’s grain can help if a horse consistently has trouble finishing the ration. This insures that he is at least getting some extra calories from the oil to make up for not eating all of its feed. Finally, using hay cubes or beet pulp that is soaked can help a horse receive the necessary roughage in a form that is easier to chew.
By being diligent about dental check-ups, many problems with teeth can be avoided. However, if you do find yourself in a situation where a horse is not eating or having trouble finishing its meals, follow the above guidelines and your horse will be on the right track towards getting and staying healthy.