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I recently checked the bit on my friend’s horse and noticed the animal needed its teeth floated. When I told the owner, my grandson asked how I knew the horse needed his teeth floated and how often it would need to have it done.
This horse had sores in its mouth and sharp spurs on its teeth, so it was apparent its teeth needed floating. Horses are individuals and develop at different rates, but generally, most horses need to have their teeth floated annually. However, you should check your horse’s teeth every month.
Horse owners are typically knowledgable in primary horse care, such as feeding and shoeing, but floating teeth are a critical aspect of your horse health as well.
Before we get into the frequency, there is a bit you should know about equine dentition. Horses, like humans, have baby teeth. They don’t get their full set of forty-four permanent teeth until the age of five.
Horses are, by nature, herbivores. Some may eat meat on occasion, but it is rare. The foods they eat are grass and hay, which requires a lot of chewing. If they can’t chew properly, it causes problems with digestion, which can be expensive.
A horse’s teeth grow most of its life. They usually stop growing around the age of twenty. That’s good because what they eat tends to be tough to chew. However, because we have changed how horses live, sometimes the food isn’t quite rough enough.
Horses do chew on other things. Our horse ate just about an entire wooden fence, amongst other things she chewed on. Bits, toys, and plastic are also something they bite. A few horses develop problems with pipe corrals.
Why is that paragraph important? It brings up the topic of floating teeth. Most people who see the word “float” think of something bobbing on water or other liquid. However, that is not what is meant here. This is about equine dentistry.
When a horse’s teeth wear wrong, spurs, raised places, and uneven wear occurs. These can cause sores on the cheeks and tongue of the horse, making it painful to eat.
If left too long, the horse may show signs such as head shaking, loss of appetite, dropping feed, and weight loss. Its breath may also be stinky.
These are signs that a horse needs its teeth floated. The equine dentist will come in and rasp the teeth until they are even again, thus removing the painful spots. As the teeth are still growing in, this isn’t a bad thing.
What will the dentist do when he floats my horse’s teeth?
Because the horse may have an aggressive reaction to floating, mild sedation may be required. That is the first step, and with calm horses or those who haven’t had problems before, it may be skipped. The horse won’t precisely sleep, but it won’t bite the dentist, either.
The second step is because it’s impossible to tell the horse to open wide as a human dentist would. There are a couple of ways to do it, but a tool is inserted to keep the horse’s mouth wide open. That allows the dentist to have a good look.
Once that is done, the dentist will gently move the horse’s tongue to the side. They may have to hold it there if the horse isn’t sedated enough to do so itself. That will prevent injury to the tongue while the examination and floating are being done.
The last two steps are the trickiest. The equine dentist uses a finger to feel around for sharp edges and uneven wear. Because the dentist has to maneuver his hand inside the horse’s mouth, a wedging tool is required.
If the horse were to bite down, serious injury could happen to the dentist without it. It is also why this should never be done alone. Tools can fail. If any places are found, the dentist will then file them.
There are two choices here. It can be done manually or with an electric rasp. The latter is faster, but it may spook the horse. Many people prefer to stick to the manual method… especially if it’s the first time for the horse.
What do I do after my horse’s teeth are floated?
There are several considerations with this. Two of them are about sedation. The other is riding. It will be a while before you can ride after floatation, although it isn’t because the horse’s teeth will be hurting.
However, after having the jaw open like that, it might be uncomfortable for a few hours. Even mild sedation will make your horse feel a bit like they’ve had too much to drink.
It is essential to withhold feed until the horse is aware enough to remember to chew properly. As mentioned, not chewing properly can lead to other problems. That usually takes about an hour.
The other is stall rest. It will take about three hours for the sedative to wear off enough before the horse can be turned out with the rest of the herd, or even alone in the paddock. It would be too easy for them to get injured while half asleep.
Horses need to have their teeth floated annually.
So, how often do horse need their teeth floated? No, that’s not the next question. How often does the horse need to see the dentist is the next question.
For the first five years of a horse’s life, the dentist should come out every six months. Regular dentist exams help ensure the teeth come incorrectly. From five years to twenty years, that can be reduced to once a year… unless there are symptoms that the horse needs the work done.
After age twenty, it’s back to every six months. That’s because the teeth stop growing after that time, and more work may be needed to keep them sound.
Now, as to floating, the frequency will depend. Some horses need floating on a yearly basis. Others may not need floating for several years. Like humans, horses can have good teeth, or they can have tooth problems.
Horses with other dental problems tend to need floating more frequently. They can have an overbite or an underbite, as well as other things. Some equine dental issues will require the dentist to visit more regularly for the horse’s entire life.
Can I float my own horse’s teeth?
Some horse owners do float their own horses’ teeth. However, those owners actually know how to do it. If you are a new horse owner, it is best to let the professionals do it. They went to school and can recognize other problems the horse may have.
They are also less likely to be injured by a horse snapping its jaw shut in the middle of the procedure. While it is unlikely you will lose the finger, you may find yourself on the ground and being trampled by the horse.
Many farriers offer teeth floating services along with shoeing. Ask your farrier if he floats teeth, and if so, he can also check your horse when he visits for shoeing jobs. But if you’re interested in trying to float your horses’ teeth, Amazon sells kits for floating teeth.
If you’re interested in learning more about horse teeth, check out my article: Horse Teeth – How Many, What Kinds, & Much More!
How much does it cost to get a horse’s teeth floated?
The average cost for floating a horse’s teeth varies, but in our area, it ranges from $150-200, which includes the dentist fee, anesthesia fees, and treatment supplies. Call around to vets and farriers to check prices in your region.
Do wild horses need their teeth floated?
Wild horses don’t need to go through the process of tooth floating because their diet consists solely of grass, and they are not given grain. There is a significant difference in how domesticated horses chew grains compared with eating only natural foliage such as plants in the wild.