Horseman’s Day Features Equine Experts in Nutrition and Ultrasound Technology

by Dr. Robert Hunter, DVM

Each year, as the foaling season begins and horse owners start gearing up for show season, trail riding and getting rid of that winter coat, Hunter Stallion Station hosts Horseman’s Day at their clinic in Wilton, California.  Horseman’s Day brings in experts on various topics relating to equine health, nutrition and the latest in veterinary technology.  It is our pleasure to offer this event free to our clients and for horse lovers from throughout Northern California.

Horseman’s Day 2013 will be held on Saturday, March 23rd.  Our featured speakers will be Stash Easton, Marketing Manager for Equine Products at Purina Animal Nutrition, speaking on Choosing the Feed Program for Your Horse, and Dr. Diane Isbell, Equine Sports Medicine Veterinarian and Author, who will update guests on Ultrasound – You and Your Horse’s New Best Friend.  In-between lectures, a free tri-tip barbeque lunch will be served, courtesy of Hunter Stallion Station, and the following sponsors: Purina, Patterson Veterinary, Luitpold, and Boehringer Ingelheim.

Be sure to sign up on our Events page so that we can be prepared to seat all of our guests.  You may also let us know by email at or call the clinic at (916) 687-6870.

What Horse Exhibitors Need to Know About Medication Rules

By Dr. Robert Hunter, DVM

The California equine industry sponsored legislation in 1971 to prevent misuse of drugs and medications in equines (horses, mules and donkeys) in public shows and sales.  As show season approaches it is important for exhibitors to know the rules.

The California equine medication rule prohibits use of certain drugs or drug combinations, while accommodating specific legitimate therapeutic use of medications within specified parameters. Prohibited substances are drugs or medications that affect the performance or disposition of the horse, mask or interfere with laboratory testing for chemicals, or are metabolites or derivatives of a prohibited substance. It is acceptable for therapeutic administration of non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) to horses prior to and during registered horse shows and competitions if the dose or combined doses (not more than two) of NSAIDs do not exceed the maximum detectable regulatory limits in plasma.

Enforcement and monitoring for drug use is carried out by the Equine Medication Monitoring Program (EMMP) implemented by the California Department of Food and Agriculture. The EMMP monitors horses in public shows, competitions and sales though random sample collection for chemical analysis.

Horse exhibitors and event managers can expect the following monitoring and enforcement activities to take place in conjunction with a California horse show or sale:

  1. Event Registration and Assessment of Fees; event managers must register their event 30 days before the event
  2. Random Sample Collection from Horses Entered in Registered Events
  3. Sample Chemical Analysis at the Kenneth L. Maddy Equine Analytical Chemistry Laboratory at the University of California – Davis.
  4. Investigation of Positive Samples and application of civil penalties for violations.

Horse exhibitors should use this form to declare legitimate drugs and should know the differences between standards set by California and USEF when traveling as noted in the chart below.

Know Your Horse’s Dental Needs

by Dr. Robert Hunter, DVM

Domestication of horses and the feeding protocol that come with living in captivity has resulted in different chewing patterns and the necessity of dental care.  Knowing how to manage your horse’s dental needs could make their life longer, and certainly happier.

Your horse’s teeth were built to graze on tough grasses for up to fourteen hours per day.  Not only does the modern horse spend less time chewing, but the type of dense feed they consume can alter the wear on their teeth.  The same features that make the cheek teeth ideal for a life of free-ranch grazing can produce problems in the domesticated animal.

Understand the Anatomy

The cheek teeth of the upper jaw are set wider than those of the lower jaw and with the altered pattern of chewing, sharp points can develop on the outer edges of the upper cheek teeth and the inner edges of the lower cheek teeth.  These can rub and catch against the cheeks and tongue causing ulcers.

In addition to the effects of an altered diet on the domesticated horse, horses that are asked to carry a bit, ride in collection and be responsive to cues must have oral comfort.

Horses also live much longer in captivity.   It is  not uncommon for them to outlive some of their teeth, and routine dentistry in older horses and ponies focuses on preserving good tooth function for as long as possible.

Use A Professional To Keep Your Horse Safe

It is not recommended that the owner examine their horse’s teeth or use a rasp to remove sharp edges.  The equine dental practitioner has the ability to use sedation when needed, and a speculum to safely keep the mouth open.  Some use motorized equipment that requires training to avoid over-heating, over-reduction of the teeth, or laceration of soft tissues within the mouth.  Your veterinarian, or a dental practitioner they recommend, will be able to diagnose any abnormalities and address your horse’s dental needs.

Make Dentistry Part of Your Horse’s Health Routine

Routine dentistry should start between 18 months to 2 years old.  Young horses can have very sharp teeth that can impact their behavior when their training begins.  Horses will shed 12 cheek teeth caps and 12 incisor caps, and erupt 36 or more permanent teeth before the age of 5.  Checking a young horse every six months is advisable.  For senior horses, it is important not to be too aggressive when rasping in order to preserve what grinding surface area remains in the mouth.  For this reason, management of old horses may only involve checking for loose or diseased teeth.

For more detailed information, view my Equine Dentistry Guide.

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Time to Turn On The Lights If You Want to Breed Your Mare Early

If you intend to breed your mare by February, it’s time to start planning to turn on the lights.

Most mares do not cycle during the shorter days of winter. As day length increases in spring, mares enter a transition period. This is the time when the ovaries return to cyclic activity by producing eggs or follicles.

Since mares are stimulated to come into heat by increasing daylight, many breeders use artificial lighting for 8-10 weeks to induce early ovarian activity. Artificial lighting is used to increase the day length to 16 hours. Using this protocol, horses will begin to shed the winter coat within 30-60 days and ovarian activity will commence within 60-90 days. During this time, mares will experience a normal transitional period of erratic follicular development and erratic estrous behavior prior to cycling normally.

In the Sacramento region, I recommend lights be turned on from 4:00pm-11:00pm starting in November. Mares that are normally housed outside should be brought into individual stalls before dark to ensure that they are within 8 feet of the artificial light source. If the mare is normally kept in a stall, it should have adequate window space to ensure natural light during the day.

Research suggests that extending the day length by adding light starting in the late afternoon is better than turning the lights on earlier in the morning and shortening the night length. The length of artificial lighting required will vary with your latitude location and, therefore, the natural day length.

How bright should the light be?  The wavelength and intensity of light is as critical as the length of exposure. It is recommended that mares be exposed to a minimum of 10 foot-candles of light during the 16-hour period. The rule of thumb is to make sure it is bright enough to read the newspaper anywhere in the stall.  Of course, that can vary based on your vision, so if you want to be more scientific you can test the light intensity with a light meter.

There is a difference in light intensity between a horse stall with dark walls and one with lighter colored walls. A 200 watt incandescent or two 40 watt fluorescent bulbs will generally give adequate illumination in a box stall, if placed within 7-8 feet of the mare.

A 35-mm single lens reflex camera with a built-in light meter can be used to measure light intensity. Set the ASA to 400 and the shutter speed to 1/4 second. Cut the bottom off a styrofoam cup and fit the bottom of the cup over the lens to gather light.  Hold the camera at the mare’s eye level. The aperture reading should be equal to or slightly greater than F4.

Many farms will set the stall lights on timers to make certain there is no interruption in the light pattern. Note that leaving barn or paddock lights on for 24 hours a day is not advantageous and 8 hours of darkness is necessary.

Be aware that the other horses in your barn will be impacted by the new lighting schedule. Stallions are also affected by day length and have reduced fertility during the winter. They can also benefit from a similar light program to induce their fertility level.  Mares who will be foaling early in the year should also be lighted to ensure that they do not slip into seasonal anestrus after their foaling heat.

Make sure to check with your veterinarian to ensure that your lighting program is in the best interest of all your breeding animals.


California Horse Owners Need to Take Precautions Against Spreading West Nile Virus

By Dr. Robert Hunter, DV

A total of eleven horses so far this year have been confirmed positive for West Nile Virus (WNV) according to the CA Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA).

On September 10, 2012, the CDFA Animal Health Branch confirmed one additional case: an unvaccinated 4-year-old gelding located in Sacramento County. The horse was euthanized.

Other positive cases are located in Butte, Fresno, Glenn, Merced, San Joaquin, Stanislaus and Yolo counties. Four of the positive horses have been euthanized.

The CDFA continues to urge horse owners to consult their veterinarian concerning a WNV vaccination program to ensure maximum protection of their horses, especially in light of recent reports that human cases are on the rise.

Thus far in 2012, 47 states have reported West Nile virus infections in people, birds, or mosquitoes. A total of 1,993 cases of West Nile virus disease in people, including 87 deaths, have been reported to CDC.

The 1,993 cases reported thus far in 2012 is the highest number of West Nile virus disease cases reported to CDC through the third week in August since West Nile virus was first detected in the United States in 1999. Approximately 70 percent of the cases have been reported from 6 states (Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana, Michigan, South Dakota, and Oklahoma) and almost half of all cases have been reported from Texas.

So far in 2012, according to the United States Geological Survey’s Disease Maps, 187 cases of non-human mammals (99.9% horses) WNV have been reported across the United States.  Eight cases or more have been reported in the following states, as of September 4: California (12), Colorado (8), Indiana (17), Kentucky (8), Louisiana (26), Minnesota (8), Mississippi (8), New Mexico (8), North Dakota (11), South Dakota (8), Texas (21).

Louisiana–which did not report any equine WNV cases last year–has confirmed the most cases so far this year with 26, according to statistics from the Louisiana Department of Health & Hospitals.

Horse owners need to take action to protect themselves and their animals.

Early diagnosis and treatment will enhance your horse’s chance of survival.  Look for the following signs and report them to your veterinarian immediately:

  • Flulike symptoms
  • Depression
  • Fine and coarse muscle and skin twitching
  • Hypersensitivity to touch and sound
  • Changes in attitude and awareness
  • Drowsiness
  • Abnormal gait, driving or pushing forward, often without control
  • Asymmetrical weakness

The equine mortality rate can be as high as 30-40%, however, studies have shown that the WNV vaccine has a substantial effect on preventing disease. The American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) recommends vaccinating all foals and horses against WNV.

Take steps to reduce horses’ exposure to mosquitoes:

  • Reduce mosquito breeding grounds by eliminating sources of stagnant or standing water, such as buckets, abandoned pools, and water troughs
  • Add a few drops of mineral oil to water troughs to create a film on top of the water that can keep the mosquito larvae out
  • Stall horses during peak mosquito periods (i.e., dawn and dusk)
  • Use equine-approved mosquito repellants and/or protective horse gear such as fly sheets, masks, and leg wraps
  • Mosquitoes cannot fly into strong wind, so place fans inside the barns or stalls
  • Turn off incandescent bulbs inside stables at night and place incandescent bulbs far away from the stables to attract the mosquitoes.

Contact your veterinarian today to make certain your horse’s WNV vaccine is current.  Taking these precautions will help protect your horse and you!

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Equine Acupuncture

By Dr. Robert Hunter, DVM

The history of veterinary acupuncture actually predates human acupuncture with evidence of meridian charts from BC in Asia.  The practice has been popular in the Far East for centuries, where they have routinely performed surgeries on animals with acupuncture as the only analgesia and restraint!

Only for the last century have Western veterinarians given attention to alternative veterinary practices like acupuncture.

So why are American vets integrating acupuncture into their treatment programs?  Could it be because it works?

Scientific research has proven the merits of acupuncture for pain relief, anti-inflammatory effects, reproductive and hormonal regulation and gastrointestinal disturbances among many other effects. Equine Acupuncture is currently recognized by the AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) and the AAEP (American Association of Equine Practitioners) as an accepted and scientifically valid treatment modality.

Acupuncture involves the insertion of a needle through the skin at predetermined sites (acupuncture points) for the treatment or prevention of disease, including pain.  The primary purpose of equine acupuncture is to treat the horse’s muscoloskeletal system. It is also a treatment used for chronic disease. The acupuncture stimulates certain pressure points in the body, causing a specific reaction.

Each acupuncture point contains a high density of lymphatic vessels, free nerve endings, mast cells and arterioles. When these points are stimulated there is a release of endogenous opioids, endorphins, serotonins and norepinephrine.

Equine acupuncturists observe the entire horse, and not just the point of the body that is diseased or injured. The practitioner will consider why the disease developed, and will observe the horse in its natural home surroundings.

Acupuncture treatment is meant to restore a state of balance, which is also known as homoeostasis. The treatment has an effect on the area of the brain known as the hypothalamus. It affects mechanisms in the brain that control blood pressure, pulse, respiration, hormone secretion, white blood cell production, and intestinal motility.

Equine Acupuncture Meridians

The Acupuncturist uses a “map” of the body, involving hundreds of points that largely fall along one of the 14 primary meridians. These points correspond to different elements of the body allowing them to understand what is going on with the body holistically. The meridians relate to the musculoskeletal system and internal organs. There are 12 main pairs of meridians and 2 unpaired meridians.

  • Heart – Small Intestine
  • Lung – Large Intestine
  • Liver – Gall Bladder
  • Pericardium – Triple Heater
  • Kidney – Bladder
  • Spleen – Stomach
  • Conception Vessel
  • Governing Vessel

One of the most often treated meridians from the list is the bladder meridian. Located on each side of the spine, it contains some of the most important points in the body. Each of these points is located along the meridians, and they control the flow of energy through the body. Problems occur when the flow of the energy is blocked, or it is not in balance. The goal of acupuncture is to balance the energy flow by removing the blockages.

The effects of acupuncture therapy cannot be explained in terms of a single mechanism, but rather a series of interactions between the nervous system, the endocrine system and the immune system. Anatomical examination of classical acupuncture points has shown that most of the acupuncture points are associated with certain anatomic structures of the nervous system.   Acupuncture needling causes micro trauma that in turn causes a local inflammatory effect. This inflammatory effect results in an increased local tissue immune response, improved local tissue blood flow, and muscle and tissue relaxation.

Some acupuncture points are known as “trigger points”. These are tender areas found in skeletal muscle associated with a tight band or knot in the muscle. The principle trigger points in a muscle are located at its center in the motor endplate zone.  This is where the nerve ends in a muscle and causes the muscle to contract. Besides using acupuncture points for treatment purposes, reactivity of acupuncture points can aid in diagnosis. When palpated, these points might show some sensitivity if there is a problem at that point or with the acupuncture meridian or pathway that is associated with the point.

Preventative Equine Acupuncture

Acupuncture treatments release enkephalins, endorphins, and serotonin, which all act as natural painkillers. Acupuncture is also useful in preventing disease and injury. Horses that are in prime condition and compete take part in a variety of exercises that can cause injuries that go unnoticed. Over a period of time, these injuries can build up, and can cause the horse greater injury because they will handle their body in ways that compensate for these smaller injuries. Through treatment and regular examinations, these injuries can be spotted early. Once the blood supply and normal functions are returned to the muscles, these injuries heal more quickly and the horse can continue to compete.

Equine Acupuncture Benefits

Conditions that respond positively to Equine Acupuncture:

  • lung problems
  • pneumonia
  • allergic bronchitis
  • chronic cough
  • infertility
  • reproductive problems
  • Scars
  • ovarian pain associated with heat cycles
  • kidney
  • heart
  • internal medicine problems
  • liver
  • diarrhea
  • digestive tract problems
  • excess gas
  • neck problems
  • constipation
  • nerve inflammation
  • pain and stiffness
  • wobblers
  • neurological disorders
  • behaviour problems
  • nerve damage
  • navicular
  • arthritis
  • chronic pain
  • musculoskeletal disorders
  • laminitis – acute and chronic
  • colic (acute and chronic)

Methods of Acupuncture

Besides the use of solid, typically stainless steel needles, other means of stimulating the acupuncture points can also be used.  Some of them include electro-acupuncture, moxibustion, laser, and aquapuncture.

Electro-acupuncture uses small metal needles and electricity. After the needles are inserted, they are connected to an electrical stimulator. This stimulator delivers pulsing electrical currents between two or more needles to enhance the treatment.

Moxibustion uses the Chinese herb Moxa to apply heat to an acupuncture point. It is rolled into a stick and lit up. It is then held over various areas of the body. Moxa can also be placed onto the handle of an acupuncture needle. This allows deeper penetration of the heat.

While there is not much research on the effective use of lasers for acupuncture, new techniques are being developed. Lasers provide a beam of light to stimulate acupuncture points for just a few minutes, whereas the needles need to be applied for up to 30 minutes. The use of a laser also avoids the occasional discomfort associated with the use of needles for equine acupuncture.

The Aquapuncture process uses injected fluids such as antibiotics, saline and vitamins to stimulate the acupuncture points. These fluids effectively produce stimulation several days after treatment.

How do you know if your horse will benefit from acupuncture?

It is important that you look for a veterinarian who has additional training in veterinary acupuncture and chiropractic to treat your horse. Without a proper understanding of your horse’s anatomy and potential medical issues, a diagnosis and treatment plan cannot be made.

Most conditions will respond in 3-10 sessions. Sometimes you will see results within a few days – of course this depends on the patient and the condition. We recommend 1-2x weekly or monthly sessions followed by once or twice yearly “tune-ups”.

Some animals will become temporarily worse or sore following treatment and may need a few days off prior to resuming their regular work schedule. All horses receiving acupuncture treatment are required to have a current tetanus vaccination.

Give Hunter Stallion Station a call at (916) 687-6870 to see if your horse could benefit from equine acupuncture.

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Benefits of Low Level Laser Therapy & Orthopedic Manipulation for Horses

By Dr. Robert Hunter, DVM

At Hunter Stallion Station, we make every effort to stay on the cutting edge of the latest methodologies and technology to benefit your horse’s health and enhance performance. Most recently, we have been researching and receiving training in non-invasive methods to treat common health issues. These treatments include Veterinary Orthopedic Manipulation (VOM) and Veterinary Low Level Laser Therapy (VLLLT).

Veterinary Orthopedic Manipulation re-establishes neuronal communication in the animal’s nervous system, thus inducing healing. Research and practice shows that it can be effective and safe. VOM can be used to treat many conditions, including lameness, diseases of the knee, digestive disorders and performance problems.

The differences between VOM and Chiropractic care are significant and distinct. VOM uses best aspects from both medical fields addressing the need to restore functionality by finding and reducing all neuronal subluxations (partial displacement of a joint or organ).
VOM is administered with a hand-held device that puts motion or force into a joint associated with a neuronal subluxation sign, causing a reduction in the subluxation. This technology goes to the root of the problem, and relies on the animal’s innate ability to heal itself.

Veterinary Low Level Laser Therapy, also known as Veterinary Cold Laser Therapy, is the culmination of over twenty years of experience and application of healing technologies using non-cutting or “cold” lasers. Using this state-of-the-art method, the horse can be treated with a number of modalities in a number of different disease conditions with healing equipment that does not even have to touch the animal’s body.

Light amplification by stimulated emission rays or L.A.S.E.R. is a means of directing highly concentrated coherent light at a concise wavelength to the muscles, tissues, organs, connective tissue, formed elements of the blood, and the living matrix of the body – all subject to laser stimulation and healing. Cells communicate through coherent light instantaneously through the living matrix to direct all aspects of healing, growth, regulation of metabolism, and general cell survival.

According to William L. Inman DVM, CVCP, who developed both VOM and Veterinary Cold Laser Therapy, dialing into this communication process via an artificial methodology such as a cold laser is the ability to emulate the exact methodology that the cells use to heal themselves and also to grow, to change, and to survive.

If you would like to learn more about our use of these alternative therapies, please give us a call at Hunter Stallion Station Equine Veterinary Clinic (916.687.6870) and we would be pleased to discuss their possible application to your horse’s condition.

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Steps to Protect Your Horse From EHV-1

By Dr. Robert Hunter, DVM

Spring is just around the corner and this means trail riding and show season will soon be upon us.  For horse owners, this is a time to be reminded that there is always risk when horses of unknown health status are gathered in close proximity.

Special Alert for Participants at Thermal Desert Circuit Show

On March 15, the CDFA reported that two horses have been confirmed positive for the non-neuropathogenic strain of Equine Herpesvirus -1 (EHV-1).  The horses were displaying hind limb ataxia and are from Monterey and San Diego Counties. Both participated in the recent Thermal Hunter Jumper Show.  If your horse was at this show, please monitor for signs of infection, including high temperature and abnormal behavior.  CDFA is working with event management to contact exposed horse owners and recommends isolation, twice daily temperature monitoring and implementation of proper biosecurity.

In January of this year there was an outbreak of EHV-1 at two Southern California stables.  According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), 16 horses confirmed positive for the neuropathogenic strain of EHV-1 at a large multi-discipline facility located in Orange County.  One confirmed case displayed neurologic signs and all others displayed compatible clinical signs such as fever, nasal discharge, and limb edema. At another multi-discipline facility in Riverside County, one horse was confirmed for the neuropathogenic strain of EHV-1.  The horse was displaying severe neurologic signs and unfortunately had to be euthanized.

Everyone will remember last year when several horse events were delayed or cancelled due to the spread of this contagious disease.  Horse owners should take the following steps when traveling to equine events:

  • Limit direct contact with other horses
  • Avoid communal water sources
  • Monitor your horse for clinical signs of disease
  • Report any temperature over 102 F to your veterinarian

The CDFA has prepared a Biological Tool Kit, which can be accessed at this link.  Dr. Kent Fowler, DVM with the CDFA will also be making a presentation on “Biosecurity Measures for Control of Equine Herpes Virus” at the upcoming Horseman’s Day, hosted by Hunter Stallion Station on Saturday, March 24th.  This event is open to the public and includes speakers on various topics relating to equine health.  Following the presentations will be a free barbeque for all participants to enjoy.

It will only be through the continued effective monitoring by the CDFA, and the protective efforts of horse owners that we will avoid a major outbreak like we saw in 2011.  If we all do our part, the only thing our horses will bring home is a blue ribbon or a memory of a nice day on the trail.


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Equine Foaling Season – Are You Prepared?

By Dr. Robert Hunter, DVM

Foaling season has begun, and it is time to prepare yourself and your mare for the blessed event.  There are several steps to take at least one month prior to the calculated due date.

Your Mare’s Gestation Period Can Vary

Your mare’s gestation period is generally between 340-345 days.  Many factors can cause this time period to vary.  For mares foaling in winter, the length of pregnancy can extend 7-10 days longer than those foaling in spring or summer.  If you had your mare under lights for the last few months of pregnancy the time period will be shorter.  Maiden mares tend to foal 7-10 days late.

Vaccinate One Month Prior to the Calculated Foaling Date

Be sure to vaccinate your mare one month prior to the due date to increase antibody levels in the colostrum.  In most cases, I recommend Eastern & Western Encephalomyelitis, Tetanus, Strangles, West Nile, Influenza, Rhino (EHV) and Rabies.  You can learn more about vaccination schedules for pregnant mares on the Hunter Stallion Station website.

Start to Prepare At Least Two Weeks in Advance

If your mare has had a *Caslick procedure, your veterinarian should schedule her at least 2 to 4 weeks prior to the calculated foaling date to have the sutured vulva opened.  This is also the time to decide where you will have the mare foal.  If you will be moving her into an unfamiliar stall, or you plan to have your veterinarian supervise the birth, you should relocate the mare at least 2 to 4 weeks in advance to allow her to settle in to her new surroundings.

As with all things in life, foaling dates do not always take place on schedule.  One sure sign that the date is near is a noticeable waxing of the mare’s teats.  Milk calcium levels increase to 200 ppm within 48 hours of foaling.  Your veterinarian can provide you with other signs that the time is near based on the mare’s foaling and medical history.

If you plan to have your mare foal at Hunter Stallion Station, please call our office at (916) 687-6870 to reserve one our foaling stalls.

*The Caslick procedure addresses potential genital infections in mares that have conformational abnormalities, or are otherwise experiencing a high frequency of genital infections.

During estrus the vulval lips become elongated and relaxed to allow for breeding, making the seal potentially ineffective.  This can lead to contamination and a uterine infection.

The procedure consists of suturing the upper portion of the vulval lips to assure an airtight seal regardless of condition, work, or conformational abnormalities. The lower one third of the vulva is not sutured to allow for urination. The wound usually heals in two to three weeks.


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What’s Involved in an Equine Dental Check-up?

By Dr. Robert Hunter, DVM

Dental care for horses has become more common in recent years as equine dentistry technology has advanced. At the same time, horse owners have become more aware that the condition of their horse’s teeth can impact their health, comfort and behavior.

So when is it time to take your horse to the dentist?

Wild horses wear their teeth naturally due to the various types of foliage in their diet.  Domesticated horses, especially those that do not graze, consume processed feeds and grains preventing their teeth from normal wear.  Whether domesticated or wild, horses are not always fortunate to wear their teeth evenly, causing difficulty in eating and resulting health issues.

Following are signs that your horse may need their teeth checked:

  • Dropping feed “quidding”
  • Having difficulty eating
  • Choking
  • Salivating
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of Appetite
  • Colic
  • Nasal discharge or bad breath
  • Wood chewing
  • Making strange faces
  • Tilting head while chewing
  • Opening mouth while bridled
  • Resisting forward movement and turning under saddle
  • Bolting
  • Evading the bit

Many horse owners think that having a horse’s teeth floated is all that needs to be done.  That is not always the case.  Floating generally refers to removing the sharp points along the cheek teeth. These sharp points are the result of normal wear, growth, and the types of feed used. Many horses have additional dental problems that are missed by a routine float or an untrained eye, so it is important that your veterinarian perform the examination.

A normal adult horse with a full set of canines and wolf teeth has a total of 44 teeth, which means there are 32 teeth behind the front teeth or incisors. A full examination includes looking for any damage from sharp teeth, (including ulcers in the side of the mouth,) and irregularities in the chewing surface.

Because horses are herbivores, the nerve structures are different than humans’ so the experience is not as painful. Most horses are mildly sedated during the procedure.

At What Age is a Dental Exam Necessary?

A newborn will grow 16 baby teeth within the first two weeks of life, so your veterinarian will examine the foal’s mouth within that time period. If a deformity such as an under-bite or overbite “parrot mouth” is discovered, then a plan of action for correction can be established.

It is important to have the horse examined prior to introducing the bit and training (usually at 18-24 months) to remove irregularities and wolf teeth. These baby teeth can get very sharp, impacting their comfort with the bit and reining.

At approximately 2 ½ years of age a horse will begin to grow adult teeth. This natural progression starts with the central incisors, and is followed by the second and third premolars. This adds up to 12 deciduous teeth in a 6-month period being pushed up out of the gum by the permanent teeth. These teeth are referred to as “caps,” which sit on top of the permanent teeth until the tooth is completely released from the gum. The cap often stays attached to a portion of the gum until the tongue or chewing pushes it free. Some caps don’t release but are loose and packed with decayed feed and must be removed manually.

Performance horses may need to be on a more frequent examination schedule.  Comfort in the bridle can be maximized by installing bit seats and ensuring proper fit of bits and tack.

Older horses frequently have the most severe dental problems. A horse’s teeth grow continuously and young horses start out with teeth that are about 3 inches long.  By the time they are 25 years old, their teeth grow only to ½ inch, so they must have regular check-ups to ensure they have the ability to chew their food.  Your veterinarian will also check for loose or missing teeth, abscesses, decayed teeth, sharp points, irregular wear, and tumors.

Dentistry should be considered a regular part of you horse’s oral care just as the farrier is a regular part of your horse’s hoof care. Your veterinarian should alter the teeth as little as possible to reduce the irregularity, provide balance to the mouth and comfort to the horse.


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