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Medical Index
First Posted: Dec 26, 2011
Dec 26, 2011

Horses and Mouth Injuries

by Debora Johnson

Have you ever noticed that your horse's behavior has changed, in a negative way, while eating, being bitted or while being ridden? Consider the possibility of some sort of mouth injury. Try to identify a problem.

Clues: Identifying Problems

Your horse may be giving you some clues that there is a problem. The trick is to be able to key in on the tips and identify the problem. Often this atypical behavior stems from problems in the horse's mouth. Below are a number of clues that may indicate that there is a problem with your horse's mouth. Horses can injure their lips, cheeks, teeth, and tongues in many ways.

  • Loss of feed from mouth while eating
  • Difficulty chewing
  • Excess salivation
  • Loss of weight
  • Large, undigested food particles in manure
  • Head tilting or tossing
  • Bit chewing
  • Tongue lolling
  • Fighting the bit
  • Resisting the bridle
  • Bucking
  • Failing to stop or turn
  • Foul odor from mouth or nostrils
  • Blood in mouth
  • Nasal discharge
  • Swelling of the face
  • Split lip
  • Tearing eyes

Take A Closer Look

How Does Mouth Injury Occur?

  • Being kicked
  • Punctures from a foreign object
  • Chewing on foreign object
  • Foreign object jammed in the gums/teeth
  • Bitting accident
  • Badly fitted tack
  • Injury to tongue
  • Horse has fallen
  • Horse has run into something
  • Chipped or fractured tooth/teeth
  • Hard hands by rider caused injury
Tongue Injuries
  • Ill fitted bit or rough bit
  • Horse stepped on reins injures tongue
  • Horse falls and bites tongue
  • Tongue severed
  • Horse kicked and bites tongue
  • Rough teeth rub tongue/ulceration on tongue
  • Nerve damage

Mouth Infections

  • Trauma
  • Dental problems
  • Badly fitting tack
  • Abscessed lymph node
  • Draining tract under jaw
  • Foreign or sharp material in roughage

Lip Injuries

  • Splits
  • Lacerations
  • Equipment such as halters can get caught on something, the use of chain shanks in the mouth can cause injuries, twitches used incorrectly can cause injuries and impalement with foreign objects can cause injuries.

Tooth Injuries

"This small dog-sized animal is the oldest found horse ancestor that lived about 55 million years ago. It had a primitive short face, with eye sockets in the middle and a short diastema (the space between the front teeth and the cheek teeth). Although it has low-crowned teeth, we see the beginnings of the characteristic horse-like ridges on the molars." Evolution of A Horse/Tufts University  Evolution of the Horse/Horse Hints  Evolution Of The Horse Video/Sound

Eocene horse lived 55 million years ago

The horse's skull has evolved to accommodate greater quantities of high-fiber forage foods. The horse's Eocene ancestor as seen above, stood a little over two feet tall. Modern equus are now almost triple that height and require 27 times more food! An amazing grinding system of the horse's teeth accommodates such an increase in food intake and processing.

The adult male horse has up to 44 permanent teeth. Mares may have between 36 to 40 permanent teeth. Horses get two sets of teeth in their lifetime. The baby teeth (deciduous teeth) are temporary. Most horses will have their full set of permanent teeth by age five.

There are three types of equine teeth: (1) Incisors are the forward teeth that shear off forage. (2) Cheek teeth are the molars and premolars which are wide, flat and grooved on the surface. These cheek teeth are used for grinding and mashing the forage. (3) There are four or five canine teeth (tushes, tusks) between the molars and incisors. Generally all male horses have four canines. However, few female horses (less than 28%) have canines, and those that do usually have only one or two, which many times are only partially erupted. These teeth are used for tearing the food and for fighting. The head and neck of the horse are elongated allowing for continual pastural grazing. This elongation increases the height and complexity of the tooth shape.

The following are some ways that the horse may injure teeth:

  • Kick
  • Fall
  • Chewing on something
  • Shedding of baby teeth
  • Improper extraction of wolf teeth
  • Harsh hands when horse is bitted
  • Fighting

More on teeth: Equine Teeth  Equine (Horse) Teeth  Floating Teeth  Tips Picking Equine Dentist

For More Information:

Mouth Injuries in Horses Melinda Freckleton, DVM, of Haymarket Veterinary Services in Virginia--quoted in this article--is one of our vets. She is excellent!
Mouth Injuries in Horses

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