A look inside a horse’s mouth can explain behavioral changes

UI College of Veterinary Medicine

Just like cats and dogs, horses need oral examinations from veterinarians. The health of a horse’s mouth greatly impacts its well-being, behavior and performance.

Dr. Dennis French, a professor who heads the Department of Veterinary Clinical Medicine at the University of Illinois, has cared for many horses with dental problems.

Unique set of choppers
A horse’s teeth continually erupt out of the horse’s jaws throughout its lifetime, French said. Species that evolved to exist on a diet of tough grasses, such as horses, cows, rabbits and other rodents, share this trait. This ongoing eruption of the teeth can present challenges for these species.

Horse teeth are organized into two sections: the incisors and the cheek teeth. The incisors are found in the front of the horse’s mouth and are the easiest to see. The cheek teeth include the pre-molars and molars and are located on the sides of the mouth. The incisors grasp and tear food, while the cheek teeth grind the feed.

“Horses chew their feed in a circular motion. This leads to uneven wear on the teeth and various sharp points can form,” French said. If this is not caught and corrected quickly, it can really tear up the mouth and leave sores, affecting the horse’s ability to eat and even perform. For this reason, horses should have their mouths examined by a veterinarian every six months, typically during a routine wellness checkup or when vaccines are administered.

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