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Does Your Horse’s Teeth Need Floating? Watch for These Signs

Last updated: October 25, 2023

By: Miles HenryFact Checked

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Just as humans do, horses rely on having healthy teeth to properly chew and digest their food. Regular dental care is essential to maintaining good equine health and can help prevent a variety of problems. And knowing when your horse’s teeth need floating is essential.

A horse’s teeth typically need to be floated every 6 to 12 months, but this can vary. Young horses and those with dental issues may require more frequent checkups. Working with a qualified equine dentist or veterinarian is essential to determine an appropriate schedule for floating your horse’s teeth.

However, even with routine care, issues with horses’ teeth can develop. In this article, we’ll explore the importance of equine dental care and how to recognize when your horse’s teeth need attention.

Common Indicators of Equine Dental Issues

Horses typically have a set of 44 permanent teeth by five years old, though this number can vary depending on the horse’s gender. These teeth will grow and erupt throughout the horse’s life.

As grazing animals, horses rely on their front teeth to snip off grass, hay, and other plant material, while their cheek teeth grind the food into a pulp for easier digestion.

horse teeth uppers

Sharp edges on a horse’s cheek teeth and unbalanced incisors can develop in any horse and, when left unaddressed, will cause discomfort and pain. As a result, the horse may begin to chew in an unnatural motion, leading to poor digestion and potential long-term dental problems.

In severe cases, these issues may lead to jaw problems and tooth loss. That’s why it’s important to address dental issues early and ensure that your horse receives regular dental care.

There are several common signs that may indicate your horse is experiencing issues with their teeth. These include:

  1. Difficulty chewing or dropping food
  2. Excessive salivation or foaming at the mouth
  3. Changes in eating habits, such as refusing to eat or eating slowly
  4. Weight loss or poor condition
  5. Foul breath or a bad odor coming from the mouth
  6. Swelling or bumps on the face or jaw
  7. Behavioral changes, such as aggression or resistance to the bit

Preventing and Treating Equine Dental Problems

Prevention is key to maintaining the health of your horse. Regular checkups, including teeth floating when necessary, can help prevent problems from developing. The diet of horses can impact their dental needs, with horses grazing on fresh pasture needing less maintenance than those consuming mostly hay.

Picture of an equine dentist working on a horses teeth. This horse's teeth need floating.
Equine Dentistry

This is due to the fiber and silica content in fresh grass, which naturally wear down horses’ teeth. In contrast, hay is typically less abrasive, meaning that horses eating primarily hay may require more frequent floating to ensure their teeth are in good condition.

If your horse develops issues with its teeth, prompt treatment is essential. Your veterinarian or equine dentist will be able to determine the best course of treatment based on the specific problem. Treatments may include tooth extraction, tooth filing or filling, and antibiotics for infections.

The Importance of Early Detection and Treatment

Early detection of equine dental problems is essential for several reasons. First, troubles with a horse’s teeth can quickly become more severe if left untreated. Infections can spread, and damage to the teeth can worsen, potentially leading to tooth loss.

Second, untreated issues can cause your horse pain and discomfort, which can negatively affect their behavior and performance.

Working with Your Veterinarian and Equine Dentist to Identify Dental Issues

Regular checkups, including oral exams and teeth floating, are important for maintaining good dental health. Your veterinarian or equine dentist can identify difficulties during these checkups and recommend the appropriate treatment.

If your horse displays any issues with its teeth, such as difficulty chewing or a change in eating habits, be sure to contact your veterinarian or equine dentist right away to schedule an appointment. With prompt diagnosis and treatment, many problems can be resolved before they become more serious.

Picture inside a horse's mouth to see if the teeth need floating.
Horse cheek teeth

What does float a horse’s teeth mean?

Floating a horse’s teeth involves using a specialized tool called a float to file down any sharp or uneven edges on the teeth. An equine dentist or veterinarian typically performs this procedure and is an essential aspect of horse dental care. Regular floating can help prevent dental issues and promote optimal performance in horses.

5 Signs Your Horse’s Teeth Need Floating

Even with regular care, your horse can still run into issues with its teeth. Recognizing the signs that your horse needs its teeth floated is crucial to prevent complications.

Here are some typical signs that your horse may need their teeth floated:

  1. Difficulty chewing or dropping food: If your horse is having trouble chewing or keeps dropping feed, this may be a sign that their teeth need to be floated. Sharp points or uneven wear on the teeth can make it difficult to grind and break down their food properly.
  2. Trouble holding the bit or head tossing: If your horse is having difficulty holding the bit or seems to be tossing their head frequently, this may be a sign that they are experiencing discomfort in its mouth.
  3. Foul breath or excessive salivation: Bad breath or excessive salivation can be a sign of problems, including infection or inflammation in the mouth.
  4. Weight loss or poor condition: If your horse is losing weight or in poor condition, this could be a sign that it cannot properly chew and digest due to poor teeth.
  5. Behavioral changes: Horses experiencing oral pain or discomfort may exhibit changes in their behavior, such as refusing to eat, aggression, or irritability.

If you notice any of these signs, it’s important to contact your veterinarian or equine dentist to schedule an appointment for a horse dental checkup. Regular care, including teeth floating, is crucial for maintaining good equine health and preventing dental problems from developing or worsening.

Picture of a vet checking if a horse's teeth need floating.
Checking a horse’s teeth

The Importance of Equine Dentistry for Performance Horses

Performance horses, such as racehorses, show jumpers, and dressage horses, require top-notch care to perform at their best. In addition to proper nutrition, exercise, and medical care, taking care of their teeth is an important aspect of maintaining a high level of performance.

A horse’s teeth are essential for proper digestion and for maintaining a healthy weight, particularly when it comes to digesting hay. Hay is a staple food for most horses and contains long, fibrous stems that require significant chewing and grinding to break down into small enough pieces for proper digestion.

As a result, any issues with a horse’s teeth, such as sharp points or uneven wear, can have a significant impact on its ability to properly chew and digest hay. This can lead to weight loss and other health issues, making it especially important to ensure that a horse’s teeth are in good condition for digesting forage.

Diagram of a horses teeth

Dental problems can also cause discomfort or pain, which can negatively impact a horse’s behavior and performance. Horse teeth need attention, including floating, which is an important part of maintaining good health in performance horses.

In addition to preventing dental problems, teeth floating can also help improve a horse’s performance by allowing them to properly chew and break down its food, which can increase its energy and stamina.

Equine dentistry can also help prevent injuries and discomfort associated with teeth. For example, sharp points on the teeth can cause ulcers on the cheeks and tongue, which can be painful and affect a horse’s ability to perform. Regular oral care can help prevent these types of injuries from occurring.

Working with a qualified equine dentist is essential for maintaining good health in performance horses. A skilled equine dentist can identify and treat problems early, which can prevent complications and allow horses to perform at their best.

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YouTube video

Conclusion

Proper dental care is a crucial aspect of responsible horse care, and this includes ensuring that their teeth are regularly maintained. Regular dental checkups, floating, removing wolf teeth, and other procedures can help prevent dental issues, improve your horse’s overall health, and prevent discomfort or pain.

FAQs

How do wild horses float their teeth?

Wild horses typically maintain their teeth naturally by grazing on abrasive vegetation that helps wear down their teeth naturally. As they chew, the tough, fibrous food works like a natural “float” and helps to keep their teeth smooth and healthy.

Does floating a horse’s teeth hurt them?

Floating a horse’s teeth typically doesn’t hurt them, as the procedure is usually done under sedation to minimize discomfort. While some horses may experience some discomfort or sensitivity following the procedure, this is generally temporary and can be managed with medication if needed.