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Why Horses Foam at the Mouth: Causes & Care For Foamy Mouth

Published on: June 27, 2023

By: Miles HenryFact Checked

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Ever noticed your horse creating a frothy spectacle at the corners of their mouth? It’s quite a sight, isn’t it? Horses foaming or frothing at the mouth is a common occurrence, something that every horse owner is likely to come across. But what prompts this foamy display? Is it just one of those quirky horse habits, or does it indicate something more?

For any horse owner or caregiver, grasping the nuances of their horse’s behavior is crucial. Not only does it make for a better bond between you and your equine friend, but it also aids in the early detection of potential health issues. Decoding such behaviors, including mouth foaming, can be key to maintaining your horse’s optimal health.

That’s precisely what we’re going to explore in this post. We’ll dive into the causes behind this frothy phenomenon and discuss some care tips you can use. Whether it’s normal behavior or a sign of trouble brewing, you’ll be equipped to make the right call for your horse’s wellbeing.

Picture of a horse running hard.  Horses foam at the mouth when exerting.

Why Do Horses Foam at the Mouth?

You’ve seen it in action – the foamy display at the corners of your horse’s mouth. But what does it really mean? Simply put, foaming or frothing at a horse’s mouth usually indicates saliva production, which is often a natural and normal response. It might happen when your horse is eating, working with a bit in its mouth, or even during certain social behaviors.

However, the crucial part here is context. Not all foam is created equal, and the “when and where” can tell us a lot. For example, a bit of foam during a training session is typically a good sign, showing that your horse is relaxed and accepting of the bit. On the other hand, excessive drooling while your horse is at rest, could signal a potential health concern, such as dental problems or a reaction to a new medication.

Remember, the story that foam tells is all about its context. Being observant and understanding the “when and where” of your horse’s frothing can help you distinguish between a healthy, normal response and a potential issue that may need addressing. It’s just another aspect of getting to know your equine friend a little bit better.

Bit Usage and Its Connection to a Foamy Mouth

Understanding the role of a bit in horse riding is crucial as it can directly impact your horse’s mouth, leading to foaming. A bit, when correctly placed in a horse’s mouth, stimulates the production of saliva.

The bit’s presence encourages the horse to chew slightly, which in turn promotes saliva production. This saliva is not only a natural lubricant that makes the bit more comfortable for the horse, but it’s also a communication tool.

When a horse accepts the bit and relaxes its jaw, a light froth of foam can form around the horse’s mouth. This foam is often seen as a positive sign in equestrian circles. It indicates that the horse is comfortable with the bit and that the rider’s aids are being communicated effectively. A relaxed and accepting horse will produce a light, an almost meringue-like froth that primarily forms around the bit.

However, it’s worth noting that every horse is unique, and some may salivate more than others. A dry mouth could suggest tension, but excessive foam or drool might indicate stress, discomfort, or even a health issue. It’s also crucial to ensure the bit fits correctly and is the right type for your horse to avoid discomfort or injury.

As always, understanding and catering to your horse’s individual needs is paramount. When used correctly, the bit is an effective communication tool, and the accompanying foam can tell you a lot about how your horse is responding.

Picture of horses grazing in a pasture

Clover Consumption and Its Link to Mouth Foaming in Horses

Clover, a common pasture plant, is often part of a horse’s diet. However, it’s important to be aware that certain types of clover can lead to an increase in mouth foaming in horses.

Specifically, red and white clovers, as well as alsike clover, can sometimes be infected by a fungus called Rhizoctonia leguminicola. This fungus produces a compound called slaframine, which is known to stimulate excessive salivation in horses.

When horses consume infected clover, they may exhibit a condition commonly known as “slobbers,” characterized by drooling or foaming at the mouth and lips. Apart from being a little messy, slobbers are typically harmless and subside once the horse stops consuming the infected clover.

It’s worth noting that not all clover consumption leads to slobbers. Many horses eat clover with no adverse effects. However, if you notice excess salivation or your horse foams at the mouth following clover consumption, it’s worth checking the pasture for signs of fungus-infected clover.

In case your pasture is heavily infected, it might be necessary to limit your horse’s grazing or consider alternative feeding options until the infected clover can be managed.

While clover-induced slobbers are generally benign, any changes in your horse’s behavior or health should be monitored closely. If your horse appears uncomfortable or if the excessive salivation continues even after removing the source of the infected clover, a consultation with a vet is advised.

Other Possible Causes of Foamy Mouth.

Several other factors can trigger horses foaming at the mouth. Certain diseases, such as vesicular stomatitis, which causes blister-like lesions in the mouth, can lead to increased saliva production and subsequent foaming.

Some medications can also cause a horse to drool or foam more than usual. If you’ve recently started your horse on a new medication and notice increased foaming, it’s worth discussing with your vet.

Stress, too, can sometimes result in excessive salivation and frothing in horses. This could occur in situations that are high-stress for your horse, such as moving to a new environment, traveling, or even changes in the herd dynamics.

Understanding the cause behind your horse’s foaming is key to ensuring its health and well-being. If you’re ever unsure, it’s always better to consult with a professional. After all, when it comes to caring for our equine friends, there’s no such thing as being too cautious.

Causes for Concern

However, not all foaming is normal or benign. Dental problems can lead to excessive salivation, turning the usual froth into a cause for concern. If your horse’s teeth are causing discomfort, you might see more drooling or foaming, often combined with other signs like difficulty eating or head shaking.

Neurological symptoms can also result in abnormal foaming. Conditions like rabies or dysphagia, a condition affecting the horse’s ability to swallow, can cause excessive drooling. If you notice your horse foaming at the mouth without a clear trigger like eating or bit work, it may be time to call the vet.

horse riding edited

How to Distinguish Between Normal and Abnormal Foam

Understanding the line between normal and abnormal foaming can be quite a task. Here, I’ll lay out some signs to help you distinguish the two.

Signs of Normal Foaming

Normal foaming is typically associated with specific activities. For instance, when horses are eating or being ridden with a bit, saliva production increases, leading to a bit of froth. This is a perfectly natural response. The foam might be white or slightly tinged, but it shouldn’t be excessive.

During riding, the foam should be a nice, light froth, mainly around the bit area. It’s a good indicator that your horse is relaxed and accepting of the bit. In a sense, the foam acts as a lubricant, making the bit more comfortable in your horse’s mouth.

Warning Signs of Abnormal Mouth Foam

Abnormal or excessive foaming, on the other hand, can look and feel quite different. If your horse is at rest and suddenly begins to drool or foam heavily, it’s a cause for concern. This could be a sign of a dental issue or neurological condition and can sometimes indicate that a horse has consumed poison.

The color and consistency of the foam can also be telling. If the foam is yellow, green, or tinged with blood, it’s time to call the vet. Similarly, excessively thick, ropey saliva is not normal and warrants a check-up.

Additional signs of trouble could be changes in behavior. If your horse seems to be in distress, is having difficulty eating, is dropping food, shaking its head, or showing signs of discomfort around the mouth, these can be indicators of a serious problem.

Remember, you know your horse best. If you notice changes in their behavior or the foaming seems unusual or excessive, don’t hesitate to reach out to a vet. Your vigilance plays a crucial role in catching potential issues early and ensuring the health of your equine companion.

Picture of an equine dentist caring for a horses teeth.

Care Tips and Preventative Measures

  • Proper Oral Hygiene for Horses

The importance of oral hygiene in horses can’t be overstated. Regular dental checks should be part of your horse’s healthcare regimen. A professional equine dentist can spot and address issues like sharp edges, loose teeth, or any oral injuries that may lead to discomfort and excessive foaming. For adult horses, a dental check at least once a year is a good rule of thumb.

In addition, consider the type and fit of your horse’s bit. Ill-fitting or inappropriate bits can cause discomfort and excessive salivation. Consult with a knowledgeable horse professional to ensure you’re using the right bit for your horse and it’s fitted correctly.

  • Regular Health Check-Ups and Vaccinations

Routine vet visits are essential in catching potential health issues before they become serious problems. Your vet can provide vaccinations, check for signs of diseases that might cause excessive foaming, and offer advice tailored to your horse’s specific needs.

Preventative care, like vaccinations, can protect your horse from certain diseases known to cause excessive salivation and foaming. Talk with your vet to ensure your horse is up-to-date on all necessary vaccines.

  • Monitoring Diet and Exercise

Diet plays a crucial role in your horse’s overall health. Ensure your horse has access to clean, fresh water at all times and receives a balanced diet suitable for their age, size, and activity level. Any changes in diet should be made gradually to avoid digestive upsets.

Exercise is equally important. Regular, appropriate exercise can help reduce stress levels in your horse, which, in turn, can prevent stress-related foaming.

Finally, get to know your horse. Observing their normal behaviors and responses will make it easier to spot any changes. If you notice increased foaming at the mouth without an obvious cause like eating or bit use, it’s worth discussing with your vet.

Remember, preventative care is key when it comes to horse health. Keeping an eye on these areas will not only help you manage foaming but will also contribute to your horse’s overall well-being.

When to Consult a Vet

There are several situations where consulting a vet becomes crucial when dealing with excessive foaming in horses. If your horse begins to drool heavily or foam at the mouth outside of eating or working with a bit, it’s a good idea to get a professional opinion.

Further, changes in the color or consistency of the foam should not be ignored. If the foam becomes yellow, green, or bloody, or if the saliva becomes excessively thick, a vet check is warranted.

Also, look for changes in your horse’s behavior. Are they showing signs of discomfort, refusing to eat, dropping food, shaking their head excessively, or acting distressed? Any of these signs, alongside an abnormal foamy mouth, could indicate a serious problem.

Importance of Timely Intervention

When it comes to health issues in horses, time is often of the essence. The sooner a problem is identified and treated, the better the outcome is likely to be. This holds true for conditions that might cause excessive foaming.

Waiting too long can allow a manageable health issue to progress into a serious or even life-threatening condition. Timely intervention is essential in ensuring your horse’s comfort and well-being and can often prevent minor issues from escalating.

Remember, you’re an essential part of your horse’s healthcare team. Your observations and quick actions can make all the difference. Don’t hesitate to reach out to your vet if something feels off. It’s always better to be safe and seek professional advice when it comes to the health of your equine companion.

Here is a good YouTube video explaining why horses foam at the mouth.


Throughout this post, we’ve taken a deep dive into understanding the varied reasons why horses foam at the mouth. We’ve recognized that it’s a common phenomenon, often seen when horses are eating or being ridden with a bit – indicators of normal, healthy salivation.

However, we’ve also addressed the fact that excessive or abnormal foaming could point to potential health issues, such as dental problems, neurological disorders, certain diseases, or reactions to specific medications. Stress can also play a role, making the context crucial when observing this behavior.

To manage and prevent excessive foaming at the mouth, we’ve explored the importance of maintaining proper oral hygiene, conducting regular health check-ups, keeping up with vaccinations, and ensuring a balanced diet and regular exercise for your horses.

As the custodians of our equine companions’ health, it falls upon us to stay informed and vigilant. Understanding the nuances of our horses’ behavior, including why they foam at the mouth, plays a critical role in ensuring their well-being.

So, you should harness this knowledge to keep an eye on your beloved companions, and remember; it’s always better to seek professional advice when in doubt. Let’s commit to being the responsible, informed horse owners that our horses need us to be. Because caring for our equine friends isn’t just a responsibility; it’s a privilege.


Why do dressage horses foam at the mouth?

Dressage horses foam at the mouth primarily due to the action of the bit stimulating saliva production. The foam signifies the horse is relaxed, accepting the bit, and salivating properly. However, excessive foam may indicate stress or a health issue. Each horse is unique, so their degree of foaming may differ.

Why does a horse foam at the mouth when eating hay?

When eating hay, a horse’s chewing action stimulates saliva production, which aids digestion. The process can sometimes create a foamy substance around the mouth. If the foaming is excessive, it may indicate the hay is hard to chew, perhaps due to dental issues, or the hay could be exceptionally dusty or dry.

Does tying a horse’s tongue cause a foaming mouth?

Tying a horse’s tongue can potentially lead to increased salivation and foaming, as it interferes with normal swallowing. However, this practice is generally discouraged as it can cause distress and potential injury to the horse. Always prioritize your horse’s comfort and consult a professional if you notice unusual behavior or symptoms.