Question: My horse is losing weight - fast! He is eating his food, drinking water, and I've even begun to give him grain. Can you help?
Answer: Horses' teeth play an underrated role in their everyday life. Just as we go to the dentist once every six months, horses should too. When a horse chews, it is in a circular motion. They have front teeth, or incisors, that allow the horse to clip grass while they're grazing. These teeth are also the easiest to view, so it is from these that the horse's age is estimated. With time, these front teeth tend to wear down a bit and may need to be flattened, or floated, in order to ensure easy grazing for the horse. The horse's back teeth, or molars, move in a circular motion with the jaw. These are the teeth that are imperative to your horse's health. If a horse has not had their teeth floated in a few years, it can look like a mountain range when you look at their molars. When untreated, this unevenness can cause ulcers, which would cause a feeling similar to our canker sores. Ouch! The unevenness can also cause drastic weight loss, due to the horse being unable to properly chew his food. This would result in his body not being able to further process the protein and fiber in the food, as it is not broken down enough by the time it reaches the stomach.
This is where the veterinarian comes in. We haul our horses to his facility, lead each one individually into stocks (a restraining box that keeps our equine friend and veterinarian safe) where he sedates the horse before he begins floating their teeth. The sedation keeps each horse comfortable and free of pain. If our vet finds rotting or loose teeth, extractions take place at this time as well, which is pretty typical for older horses. Young horses between the ages of five months old and four years old may have wolf teeth, which are the first premolar teeth and are usually extracted to prevent interference with the bit, and to avoid traumatizing the soft tissues around the teeth, which can lead to soreness.
So to answer your question, your horse's weight loss may have less to do with his feed, and more to do with his mouth. We are so grateful for the way our veterinarian tends to the health of our horses. They make a world of difference!
Fun fact, only stallions and geldings have canine teeth, as these were predominant in ancestral horses and used for fighting other stallions.
Never look a gift horse in the mouth - unless he's a real horse!
Sanctuary Horses Board President