Vail Pet Talk column: Equine dental health is more important than many realize | VailDaily.com

Vail Pet Talk column: Equine dental health is more important than many realize

During the past few months, our articles have focused exclusively on our small, four-legged companions. As an equine competitor, as well as an equine owner and veterinarian, I felt compelled to write an article about our large animal four-legged friends, as I see issues daily that could be prevented, or corrected, with good client education.

Here in Eagle and Summit counties, we love our horses. As performance horse competitors, trail riders or arena riders, we all have experienced the benefits of good preventative care, including dental care for our horses, as we see better performance, better bit response and more optimal utilization of nutrients, resulting in a healthier and stronger horse.

Many horse owners do not realize how much their horses require dental care. Here are a few equine dental facts:

• A horse can have up to 44 teeth — compared to just 32 in humans.

• Horses' teeth, unlike humans, grow consistently, with the outer side of the upper arcade and the inside of the lower arcade growing more rapidly, which can affect the ability of a horse to prehend and chew feed without losing feed out of the mouth.

• Over time, horses' teeth develop sharp "points," which can result in lesions that can actually result in infections in the oral cavity.

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• Horses' teeth are not white — due to the pigmentation of the plant life they eat, it's normal for equine teeth to be cream-colored with darker streaks.

• Your horse's gums, on the other hand, should be pink. Redness and inflammation at the base of the horse's teeth may indicate infection or some other condition.

• Signs of a horse experiencing dental problems include drooling, chewing on only one side, choke, trouble taking the bit, weight loss, unthrifty appearance and odor coming out of the oral cavity.

So, are you noticing your horse is drooling? Are you noticing your horse not eating as well? How about your horse eating out one side of the mouth or the other? Is your horse not responding to the bit? Is your horse throwing its head as you ride? All of these clinical signs point towards dental disease in your horse.

Currently, the goal of equine dentistry services is to examine, diagnose and treat conditions that affect a horse's mouth, gums and teeth. Since prevention is an essential component to longevity and well being, it's important to have your horse regularly evaluated by an experienced veterinarian to assure that its teeth are healthy and to provide treatment if a problem is detected.

Usually, the veterinarian will provide gentle sedation and insert an oral speculum in the mouth. Then with the assistance of a special light, the veterinarian can see problem areas, including broken teeth, abscessed teeth or even sharp points, which can actually cause sores on the gums. The veterinarian then will utilize a combination of special hand tools and power tools to correct your horse's dental problems. Equine digital X-rays can also be taken in areas where you suspect an issue but cannot visualize it.

So as fall approaches, don't wait. Get your horse's oral health evaluated so he or she can be in the best health as the cold weather comes in.

Sheila Fitzpatrick, DVM, owner of Mountain Mobile Vet and The Animal Hospital Center, submitted this column. You can reach her at 970-328-7085.