At Advanced Equine Dentistry, we are keenly aware of our role in helping our clients provide preventative care for their equine partners. We specialize in dentistry but we also offer the routine veterinary services that allow you to keep them healthy….and bring it right to your barn door! After talking with many of you, we’ve developed these bundles as a way to reduce your costs and still be sure to meet those needs. We are proud to be the practice you choose to help care for your horses!
After reading our article on Body Condition Scoring, you may be wondering if you are feeding your horse properly. Clients often ask us for nutritional advise based on what they have noticed with their horse. Sometimes, this is their first horse and they just feed what they were told by the old owner. Choosing the correct feeding regimen for your horse’s activity level, age, dentition, and other factors should begin with choosing the correct type of hay. Grain can be added as a supplement, if needed. Many horses do well with only access to hay and pasture, plus or minus a ration balancer.
The first thing to consider is your horse’s energy requirement. Are they mainly pasture ornaments that go out for occasional pleasure rides? Are they weekend warriors that truck it out on trails? Or do you have a competition horse in training, broodmare, or growing foal that needs a lot of energy? Different types of hay have different nutritional content. They only way to truly be sure of what you’re feeding is to have an analysis done of the hay. This involves taking a core sample of the hay bale and submitting it to a lab for analysis. Some labs do group samples if you have an entire shipment you want analyzed. Below is a chart from the University of Florida Equine Department you can use as basic guidelines when choosing a hay for your horse. Donkeys have lower energy requirements than horses based on where they originated from (the mountains of South America). They don’t need grain and do well on lower quality hays, like Tifton or even straw. You also have to monitor their pasture time, or they will get overweight. This predisposes them to a number of health problems, such as hyperlipema and Equine Metabolic Syndrome.
Now, on to the different types of hay. Going to the feed store can be a bit overwhelming for new horse owners and veterans alike. There are three main types of hay you can feed: legume, grass, or mixed.
- Legumes- Includes alfalfa and perennial peanut. Generally better quality than grass hay, as they have less fiber, higher calorie content, and more potassium and calcium. More palatable for most horses1. Peanut hay tends to lose a lot of leaves as it gets moved around, causing it to lose important nutrients. A good option for horses needing more energy or those that are hard keepers.
- Grasses- Includes orchard, timothy, fescue, rye, Costal Bermuda and other Bermudagrass varieties, and Tifton. All types have generally the same nutrition content. Variation will depend on growing conditions, weed content, and fertilization. We don’t generally recommend feeding Tifton unless you have a donkey or overweight horse.
- Mixed hays- Contain a certain percentage of both legume and grass hay. Nutritional content varies based on what hays are used and in what ratio. Suitable for most riding horses that are not in hard work. Examples include orchard/alfalfa (O&A) and timothy/alfalfa (T&A).
Below is another chart from the University of Florida that has a basic analysis of several hay types.
Now that you know which type of hay you want, there are some other things to consider once you lay eyes on it at the store. The outer color isn’t always indicative of quality. Yellowing can be caused by sun bleaching and rain damage. The sun bleaching doesn’t have much affect on nutritional value, as long as its just the outside of the bale. Rain damage, however, can be dangerous due to mold. It’s important to look inside the flakes and be sure they are a nice green color. The intensity of the green color can vary based on several things, such as where the hay was grown (Western hays are a more intense green than Florida-grown hays) and the type of hay (Alfalfa is a very intense, deep green compared to most other hays)1. Black, gray, or excessively brown hays should be avoided, as they can contain contaminants, mold, and have minimal nutritional value. You can usually smell and see mold when you open the bale. You will notice a musty smell and can sometimes see the mold spores take to the air as dust. There can be black or gray mold spots within the flakes, as well. If you notice any of these things, throw that bale out! Mold can be toxic! Good hay should smell sweet, like fresh cut grass1.
Another big thing to consider is the maturity of the hay. Mature hay has less nutritional value and is generally less palatable to horses. Grass hays with large seed heads are more mature and are lower quality. For legume hays, the more flowers (purple or yellow) they have, the more mature they are. Thick stems are another sign of maturity. The thicker the stems, the more fiber and less calories the hay has. It is also less digestible. Most of the nutritional value of hay is in the leaves, so the more leaves, the better1. It is worth considering mature hays if you have donkeys or overweight horses, or if you just need to supplement a thin pasture. “Easy-keepers” could also benefit from more mature hay.
Go ahead and feel the softness of the hay. Legume hays are less soft than grass hays. Mature hay with more stems will also feel coarser. Weeds contamination can be prickly and decrease palatability of the hay, in addition to decreasing the nutritional quality and potentially being toxic to the horse. Orchard is a very soft grass, and is often a good choice for older horses and those with dental issues. It is generally very palatable and easy to digest. Some horses won’t eat certain types of hay, so if you have a picky horse, try changing it up! Try a different type of hay or get it from a different supplier. Some horses like to have their hay soaked, but be careful as this removes lot of the nutrients. This could be a good idea for insulin-resistant horses or those with Equine Metabolic Syndrome, as well as horses that need to lose weight but have a higher quality hay. Be sure to discard the water and consider feeding a ration balancer to ensure the horse is getting everything they need if you choose this route.
A quick note about hay rolls. These can be a good option to supplement a thin pasture, or to try and save some grass if you have too many horses in a small area. In our area, the rolls are usually Tifton, meaning they are generally lower quality hay. So, it is a good idea to get smaller bales of higher quality hay and toss a few flakes out per horse once or twice a day, depending on the amount of grass available and the time of year. There is also a higher risk of dead animals being rolled into the bale and you not noticing. As the animal decays, it releases Botulism toxin. The horse(s) can ingest this toxin and acquire Botulism toxicity. Infection causes neurologic signs and flaccid paralysis. You will notice facial drooping and a floppy lip, difficulty chewing and swallowing, and the horse may go down and not be able to rise. If you notice any of these symptoms, call your vet immediately.
PSA- DO NOT FEED HAY BLOCKS WITH THE WIRES ON!!! Hay blocks are a recent creation made with good intentions, but with unintended consequences. Leaving the wires on is not only dangerous because of the risk of the horse getting his foot or jaw stuck (we have seen broken jaws and leg wounds from block wires), but it also ruins the horse’s gums. We often see gingival recession and gingivitis in horses that have access to hay blocks. This weakens the attachment of the incisors and can lead to the need to remove the tooth/teeth in the long run. Hay blocks can be acceptable (though not preferred) if the wires are removed and the bale is opened up. The horse shouldn’t have to spend more energy getting the food then what they are getting out of it.
*If you are interested in doing a hay analysis, the University of Florida Equine Science program has a nice chart explaining the different values and what they mean. The link is in the references at the bottom of the article.
Written by: Dr. Morgan Bosch, DVM
- University of Florida Equine Science Department. Selecting Hay for your Horse. https://extadmin.ifas.ufl.edu/media/extadminifasufledu/cflag/image/docs/fl-equine-institute/2006/SelectingHay.pdf
Advanced Equine Dentistry has created “Wellness Packages” designed to save our horse owners money on the dental and wellness services you routinely use! The packages bundle common wellness services with discounts attached to each level. You choose the services you need and a discount is automatically applied based on what your horse requires during the visit. Ask us at your next visit!
Most horse owners are familiar with some of the common signs that their horse may need a dental exam, such as difficulty chewing, loss of body condition, excessive salivation, and head turning while eating. “Dropping feed” isn’t necessarily a sign your horse is having issues chewing, unless they’re dropping hay. Horses mouths aren’t designed to eat the small processed feeds we often give them, and so they tend to drop grain out the sides of their mouths. This is acceptable as long as they clean up the pieces they drop. Wetting the grain and feeding from a bucket on the ground can help them chew and digest grain more easily. However, if they are spitting out clumps of partially chewed hay, this is called “quidding” and it is an indication they aren’t chewing properly. Below is an example of what a quid looks like. They are generally oval or ball-shaped, and can be hard to notice in the pasture.
Other less noticeable signs that your horse may need a dental exam include large, undigested feed particles in their manure. This indicates that they aren’t able to properly chew their hay or grain, and are therefore unable to utilize all the nutrients you are feeding them. You will notice whole pieces of grain/corn and long stems of hay, as opposed to nicely digested small pieces. Your horse may also be trying to tell you something is bothering them while riding. Head tilting/tossing, bit chewing/resisting the bit, tongue lolling, inadequate stopping, and even bucking/rearing can be signs your horse is uncomfortable with his mouth. We have had numerous clients whose horses had behavioral issues that resolved after their dental was taken care of. Some horses are extremely sensitive, and even slight discomfort can make them disagreeable.
There are other more significant signs that your horse may have a dental problem, such as facial swelling and nasal discharge. If you horse has an infected tooth or sinus, the nasal discharge is typically only from one side of the nose. You will notice a very bad smell, in addition to the yellow/green discharge. While this doesn’t technically qualify as an emergency, be sure to have a veterinarian come check the horse as soon as possible. Leaving a rotten tooth can cause infection to weaken the surrounding teeth and jaw bone, causing more complications when the tooth is removed. In rare cases, the jaw bone can weaken enough to fracture.
If you’ve noticed a change in your horse or are just concerned that they may be in need of a dental exam, please give us a call!
Written by Morgan Bosch DVM
We are often asked by clients if their horse is too fat or too skinny. As we don’t currently have a scale in the trailer, our next best tools are body condition scoring (BCS) and weight tapes. BCS is based on the Henneke (“Hi-nec-kee”) horse body condition scoring system first developed in the 1980’s. The scale ranges from 1, being poor, to 9, being extremely fat/obese. Most healthy horses range between 4-6, depending on their use.1 I personally use half points, if needed on certain horses, to give a more precise number. There are 6 main points on the horse’s body that store fat and are used to assess BCS. These include the neck, withers, back, shoulders, ribs, and tailhead (see picture below). By using a combination of palpation (touch) and visual observation, we can arrive at a score.
Many different conditions can have an effect on BCS. If a horse has a low BCS, it could be because of inadequate feed intake/poor quality feed, poor dentition, excessive exercise, harsh weather conditions, illness or disease, parasites, ect. If a horse has a BSC that is too high, it could be caused by too much feed/lush pasture, Equine Metabolic Syndrome, lack of exercise, ect. I’ve attached a BCS chart at the end of this article so you have an idea of what each score looks like. If your horse isn’t in the ideal range, feel free to ask us what you can do to help improve your horse’s condition during our next visit!
Written by: Dr. Morgan Bosch, DVM
- Wikipedia. Henneke Body Condition Scoring in the Horse. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henneke_horse_body_condition_scoring_system
: We are often called out by clients to check a horse they are interested in purchasing before they buy. As part of a pre-purchase exam, all horses should have their dentition checked. We have found broken teeth, broken jaws that have healed, and severe dental and oral diseases during these pre-purchase exams. One of the main things our clients are interested in knowing is the horse’s true age. We often see horses that sellers claim are 10-12 years old; in actuality, they are closer to 20 years in age based on their teeth.
Horses are characterized as grazing animals, meaning they are designed to eat mostly grass. Horses generally graze upwards of 10 hours a day in the wild, eating lower quality forages. Horses are also designed to eat with their heads down. Feeding out of raised feed tubs can lead to numerous dental issues, so we encourage clients to feed in tubs off the ground, hay included. You can also use low-hanging hay nets if your horse is stalled during the day or there isn’t much grass in the field. Changing a horse’s natural way of eating can also affect how their teeth wear.
Foals have a set of deciduous, or “baby,” teeth. They get a full set of incisors and the first 3 premolars before shedding those and developing their permanent dentition. Foals can be born with their first deciduous incisor already erupted, or it may erupt shortly after birth. Their remaining incisors erupt at 4-6 weeks, and 6-9 months, respectively. The deciduous premolars erupt within the first 2 weeks 1. Teeth are considered “in wear” when they come into contact with the tooth opposing it. (insert picture of younger horse teeth). Occasionally, these baby teeth (also called “caps”) can become retained as the permanent teeth emerge. Fortunately, they are typically easy to remove with a little elbow grease and don’t cause any long-term damage or cosmetic effects. If left, however, they can form longer roots and make for some interesting looking smiles.
The permanent teeth begin erupting at 2 ½ years, with the central incisors, and continue outward each year. All permanent incisors are fully erupted between 4 ½ – 5 years. The canines erupt around 5 years of age. The shape of the incisors also helps determine a horse’s age. Horses less than 11 years old have a rounder shape to their incisors2. As the horse ages, the incisors develop a more triangular shape, with older horses having almost a cheesecake appearance. (insert comparative picture of young vs old)
Teeth are made up of cementin, dentin, and enamel. As the horse eats and ages, the teeth get worn down in a set pattern. The “cup” is the center of the infundibulum, which is a groove on the tongue side of the tooth (see picture). Wear of the occlusal, or chewing, surface causes the cup to get smaller, and eventually disappear from all lower incisors between 6-8 years of age beginning with the central incisor. This leaves the “enamel spot” in its place. The enamel spot is the deepest part of the infundibulum. The “dental star” corresponds with the pulp cavity and appears at 8 years of age in the first incisor. It appears as a line and then changes to a large, round spot as the occlusal surface is worn further. It is still visible after the cup and enamel spot have been worn away2.
Galvayne’s (pronounced Gal-veins or Gal-vey-nees) groove is useful in the older horse to estimate age. It appears near the gumline of the third incisor around 10 years of age, progressing to half way down at 15 years, and completely to the bottom of the tooth around 20 years. The groove then regresses from the gumline, progressing halfway down by 25 years. By 30 years old, the groove is completely gone2. (insert groove picture with age)
By combining all of these indicators, we are able to narrow down a horse’s age to within a few months to years. Some horses do have individual variation, such as the 25 year old pony whose teeth look like she’s in her teens, or the 14 year old horse who looks like he’s 20. Bad habits such as cribbing can also prematurely wear down the incisors and make a horse appear older. If you have a question about your horse’s true age, give us a shout at 727-484-4473!
Written by: Dr. Morgan Bosch, DVM
- AAEP powerpoint Horse Health Education: Dental Care
- Rouge, Melissa. VIVO Pathophysiology- Aging Horses by Their Teeth. http://www.vivo.colostate.edu/hbooks/pathphys/digestion/pregastric/aginghorses.html
How often should my horse have his teeth floated? Why should my horse have his teeth floated? These are questions many horse owners have asked themselves over the years. Current recommendations by the Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) vary with the age of the horse. Foals under a year old should have their mouth conformation checked at birth (to check for cleft palates and jaw conformation), at 3 months, and then every 6 months thereafter. The first deciduous, or “baby,” teeth can erupt before the foal is born. The last deciduous teeth appear around 8 months of age1. It is important to check foals for the development of an over/underbite and other malformations, so they can be managed appropriately before the permanent teeth form. Horses’ teeth erupt at a rate of around 1/8th of an inch per year1. Horses from ages 1-20 years old should have their teeth checked every 6 months, ideally, with 12 months being the maximum amount of time between dental exams. After age 20, the teeth erupt at a slower rate and horses can be examined yearly, as long as nothing changes with their eating habits. Older horses are more prone to breaking or losing teeth as the teeth weaken and the roots get shorter and shorter. There are also numerous diseases that can develop as the horses ages. If your horse has had a tooth removed as any point in its life, they should be floated every 6 months to prevent future problems.
So, what are these hooks and ramps I lured you in here with? A “hook” is an elongated enamel point most often located on the first upper premolar, although they can occur on the last molar in some cases (see image below). Hooks form when horses don’t have proper dental care. In some cases, the bit can get caught behind the hook and cause issues while riding. Even small hooks can jar the bit while riding. In addition, hooks can interfere the motion of the jaw and lead to difficulty chewing.
A “ramp” is an abnormal upward sloping of tooth (think of a ski ramp). These are most often seen in the last lower molars, although they can also be seen on the first lower premolars as a “reverse ramp” (see image below). Ramps are often seen in conjunction with hooks, as a result of improper dental care. When combined, these two over growths can lock the jaw from moving back and forth, resulting in weight loss and performance issues.
A horse’s jaw in designed with the top set of teeth wider than the bottom set. In the wild, the horse’s natural chewing motion and the types of forages they eat work to wear down their teeth uniformly. Domesticated horses rarely eat as they would in the wild, resulting in most of the common issues we see during routine dentals. Because of their mouth conformation, horses develop what we call “sharp buccal edges.” This simply means that the outer edges of the upper teeth and the inner edges of the lower teeth become sharp and can cause cuts to the cheeks and tongue. If we do find some cuts in your horses’ cheeks, it’s usually nothing to worry about. Once the sharp points are taken care of, the mouth generally heals within 7-10 days.
Our practice recommends dental exams every 6 months to catch any potential issues before they become real problems. This also works in conjunction with Florida’s vaccine recommendations, so many owners take advantage of the trip to do everything at once. If you have further questions, or would like to schedule an appointment, please contact us at 727-484-4473
Written by: Dr. Morgan Bosch, DVM
Microchip technology is being used increasingly for horses and is a means of lifetime identification. Each chip number is unique with characters that designate the manufacturer, the country of origin, and the horse registered with the chip insertion. Currently, the USEF, USHJA, FEI, and Jockey Club require micro-chipping of any horse in their registries and most other registries are quickly following suit. A microchip does not contain a power source, so they do not expire and are readable with handheld scanners throughout the life of your horse. Along with horse identification for registration, microchips serve as protection in situations of loss or theft that allows for recovery and proof of ownership . Microchips are an easy way to protect your horse and Advanced Equine Dentistry is happy to provide this service to our clients and their beloved equines!
The Advanced Equine Dentistry Staff hopes that all of our clients are safe and healthy! We wanted you to know that we are working as we are a veterinary practice, always wear gloves and masks, AND can easily maintain 6 foot distances from you during our procedures. But, we also wanted you to know that if you’d prefer to remain in your home for your horse’s appointment, you may put them in an easily accessible area (stall or small paddock) and we will certainly handle them for you. We are able to take credit card payments by phone or you can leave a check at the time of your visit. Just let us know when we call to confirm if you need and special arrangements and we can help you take care of your horses and stay safe! Take care!
For humans, the World Health Organization defines wellness as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well being, and not merely the absence of disease”. When we talk about “equine wellness” in our practice, it goes beyond dentistry. We know that each of our clients acts as their horse’s guardian and that overall, their goal is a healthy and happy horse. Because the ability to eat is so vital to that outcome, our practice is structured to provide excellent dentistry utilizing technical skill, professional equipment, and procedures designed to produce less stress on both your horse’s teeth and on their mind. At the same time, we focus on other services to promote that desired state of health such as parasite management, nutritional counseling, body scoring, routine vaccinations, skin care, wound care, pain relief, and client education. Advanced Equine Dentistry and our veterinary staff are proud to be a partner in attaining equine wellness for thousands and thousands of clients. We’d be happy to meet your horse and become your partner too!