Advanced Equine Dentistry has examined and treated an increased number of horses with foxtail injuries to their teeth, gums, tongue in the last couple of weeks. The horses have been from Hillsborough county and south so far, and no specific hay supplier has been identified. The most common symptom reported has been profuse drooling but they have also exhibited swelling of the tissues, oral ulcerations, unusual tongue movements, an unwillingness to be touched, and barbs visible in the mouth and lips. Some owners noted head tossing and a general discomfort when utilizing a bit.
Identifying foxtails in an equine mouth can be a challenge as they aren’t fans of opening their mouth on command. If possible, you can hold their tongue to the side (they generally won’t bite down on it for a short period) or you can try using a twitch. If successful, you’ll want to be sure to check all surfaces….the barbs tend to move under the tongue and into the roof of the mouth. If they will not cooperate, you’ll need help from your equine dentist or your veterinarian and the use of a speculum. The thistles and seedpods are barbed and difficult to see without good lighting and oral access. This is the best photo we could find to give you an idea of what they look like (Image copied from Pet Helpful.com)
Removing foxtail barbs is a manual process. You can try rinsing if they aren’t firmly embedded, however actually grasping each barb with tweezers is most effective. Depending on the number ingested, this may take several attempts as they move to the surface of the tissue. The single best way to treat foxtail injuries is to prevent them from occurring…..examine your own pastures for the foxtail plants and examine the hay you are purchasing for visible plants, thistles, and seed pods prior to feeding. These few moments of preparation will save your horse from a painful oral injury!
References: Pennsylvania State University College of Agricultural Sciences, Washington State University Agricultural Extension, Pet Helpful.com.