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Horse Teeth and How To Feed Those With Dental Issues

Horses are living longer and in many cases are outliving their own teeth. This can make feeding an old horse with poor teeth, and even no teeth, challenging. When a horse’s teeth become loose, worn or missing, it can make simple things like chewing very difficult and will reduce the horse’s ability to obtain the essential nutrients they need from their diet to be healthy and happy.

However, it’s not just older horses with poor dental health that present a challenge to feed – horses of all ages can suffer from conditions such as diastemas, where abnormal gaps can develop between a horse’s teeth. This often means that the horse cannot manage long-length forage, which should make up at least half of every horse’s diet, which can result in significant weight loss. There is also an increased risk of colic as the horse may consume larger pieces of forage which can be more prone to causing impactions in the digestive tract.

A study funded by Dengie showed that when high-fibre materials were provided in a form the horse could manage, they were able to consume just as much as a horse with normal dentition. If you have a horse with bad teeth it can be as simple as finding the right form of forage and feeding enough of it to enable them to gain weight and look and perform as well as ever.

Signs of Poor Dentition and Dental Issues

If you are concerned about your horse’s teeth, you should always consult a vet or equine dental practitioner to inspect them and provide a diagnosis.

Feeding a Horse with Bad Teeth

It is vital to be aware that poor dentition can lead to reduced consumption of food, and thus energy, in comparison to horses with good teeth. This is particularly important for those kept in groups and offered forage together – horses with poor teeth may miss out on their allocation of feed as they eat more slowly than their companions. Providing fibre in a form the horse can manage ensures that they are still receiving all the vital nutrients to keep them healthy.

Help Your Horse Avoid Bad Teeth Issues

The most important aspect of reducing the chances of your horse having bad teeth is to feed a high fibre diet. Studies have shown that feeding fibre based feeds encourages your horse to use the full range of jaw movement which reduces the likelihood of sharp edges forming. High fibre diets have also been shown to generate more saliva which has natural anti-bacterial functions and so helps to promote oral hygiene.

Frequently Asked Questions

My horse has 3 big buckets of feed a day – is this too much?

The answer to this is it depends on what is in the bucket! If you are using a chopped fibre feed such as Alfa-A Oil then it is very voluminous and so a bucketful is probably about 1.5kgs. The key thing is also that it is a high fibre feed and so can be thought of in the same way as forage – you wouldn’t be worried about feeding a bucketful of hay. High fibre feeds don’t overload the digestive system in the same way that cereal based feeds can and so it is perfectly acceptable to feed them in bigger quantities in one bucket. In fact, if your horse spends all night eating a big bucket of chopped fibre, it is a much more natural way to feed than giving a small meal of cereals. Horses would spend 16-18 hours a day grazing and the more we can replicate this in the stable the better.

With cereal based feeds, giving more than 1.5kgs in each feed is likely to reduce the efficiency with which the nutrients are absorbed and increases the risk of digestive upsets. It is far better to introduce a 4th feed than carry on with 3 large meals.

What is a ‘quidding horse’?

When a horse suffers from dental disease, damage, or even tooth loss, they may occasionally expel partially chewed food from their mouths. This is referred to as ‘quidding.’ You may have also heard of ‘cud dropping,’ which is a similar behaviour observed in cattle, but it has no connection to their dental well-being. If you notice you have a quidding horse, you should investigate further into whether the cause is something such as an abscessed tooth or even diastemas, and look to make changes to their diet as detailed above. You may need to bring in an equine dentist to fully investigate the issue.

Can bad teeth cause colic in horses?

The act of mastication, or chewing, is an important process that can be hindered by dental anomalies in horses. This can lead to pain and therefore less effective chewing of food, as well as reduced feed intake. Improper grinding of feed can impair digestion and increase the risk of equine gastrointestinal issues such as colic, choke, and diarrhoea.

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