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2004 Summer 

 

Dental Discussion

For those of you who heard me speak at Crown Feed’s Purina Seminar, this topic of discussion may be a bit repetitive to you....but what the heck, read on anyway; hopefully, you will still enjoy it. Dental care in horses is an extremely important aspect to equine preventative care. However, I still hear from a few owners each year, “What’s the big deal with working on horse teeth anyway? Horses out in the wild don’t have their teeth worked on and they made it just fine.” Well, here’s the kicker. A lot of the reason horses need dental care is because of us, their owners. GASP, yes it’s true. This should, hopefully, increase your awareness of your horse’s dental care even more.

Horses have a type of teeth called hypsodont (hip-so-dah-nt) which means they grow continuously all of their lives. Unlike our teeth, once our adult teeth grow in we’re done, horses’ teeth continue to grow (or erupt) all their lives (well, into their late years anyway). Why?? Horses are made to graze all the time and if they grazed all day on teeth that wouldn’t replace themselves, they would wear them down to nubs. But here’s where we come in. How many of you out there have your horses out in a huge pasture with adequate grazing pasture 24 hours a day, 7 days a week? Not too many. We’ve changed them to eating two square meals a day, and they’re done eating each meal after two hours. They then stand without chewing the remainder of the day. This “down time”, so to speak, is a perfect time for teeth to grow points. Also, when is the last time you requested to evaluate a horse’s mouth before you decided to breed her or breed him with your mare. Overbites and underbites and other dental abnormalities can have a hereditary component, and we can actually perpetuate problems by breeding them. Also, we are expecting a lot more out of our younger horses at a younger age when a lot of dental changes are occuring (we will discuss later), which should push us into routine dental care at even younger ages. And finally, we are also allowing our older, beloved horses to live longer lives and hoping their teeth will last as long as they do; and they simply won’t without routine dental care. So in the end, my usual answer to an owner who continues to give me grief about dental care in horses is this...”A horse out in the wild with a major dental abnormality would not be able to eat well, would be in poor body condition, and would be one of the first to be picked off by a mountain lion thus preventing it from perpetuating that characteristic in the herd.”

Let’s start at the basics. Adult horses have a complement of 40 teeth (males) or 36 teeth (females) as you can see by Figure1. The front teeth or incisors are used primarily for prehending or taking food into the mouth to eat. Of course they’re also great for breaking up apples and grabbing shirts, but that’s besides the point. Their two front deciduous (dee-sid-you-us) or baby teeth usually start erupting within a week after birth; then their second incisors come in approximately two months; and then their third incisors erupt approximately at eight months of age. Their back teeth or cheek teeth consist of both premolars and molars and are the teeth that are used for chewing and grinding their feed. Their premolar deciduous teeth are coming in within weeks of birth as well, but they don’t start getting molars (they come in as adult teeth, no baby teeth) until around a year of age. The wolf teeth start erupting usually around six months of age. Here’s where the fun starts and I get lots of oohs and aahs when I start pulling deciduous teeth. The front incisors and the back premolars will shed deciduous (baby) teeth as their adult teeth erupt. As you’re looking at the front teeth they lose them from inside to outside at two years (1st incisors and premolars), three years (2nd incisors and premolars), and four years (3rd incisors and premolars). If they’re coming loose when I perform a dental examination, I usually remove them and give them to either excited or horrified clients for a souvenir. Or I add them to my bag of teeth I’ve collected over the years. Then between the years four and five the males begin to erupt their canine teeth. Wow, huh?? So between the ages two through five, they lose 24 teeth and can erupt up to 32 teeth. That’s a lot of activity in a mouth.

So what do we decide to do with these young horses with all this discomfort in their mouth? WE decide to put a bit in their mouth for the first time, just to add some more excitement into the mouth. Now settle down, before you pull all your horses from training and I get some angry trainers calling me, hear me out. I’m not saying it’s a bad idea to train your horse, but I am saying to please give your horse the benefit of a good dental examination and dental care prior to sending him to the trainer so his mouth can be as comfortable as possible, and you can get the most bang for your buck so to speak from the entire training experience. Wouldn’t you rather have your horse pay attention to the trainer than to pay attention to pain coming from his mouth? You can also prevent your horse from being labeled as “difficult to train” or a “problem” if he’s not fighting a bit that is causing discomfort from poor dentition. This knowledge can also help you out after you get your three year old colt back from training and he’s working like a dream; then all of a sudden when he turns four and a half he starts shaking his head and tugging at the bit and you wonder what’s wrong...think teeth first. Before you think he’s being bad and do corrective measures, remember that he’s likely erupting his canine teeth and he’s probably sore with the bit hitting them. I also get people calling in a frantic about their horse getting kicked in the mouth and having loose, bleeding teeth. My first question is always, “How old is the horse?” Everyone PLEASE keep in mind when I ask questions there is a reason, and I’m not judging whether I want to take the time to respond to an emergency or not (believe me I’ve been accused of it). When I hear the horse is two, then I ask if there is any external trauma to the gums or lips and usually assure them they’re just losing baby teeth and we’ll check it during normal business hours if they still need assistance. Some horses will also go off their feed when they’re losing premolar decidous teeth (often called caps), and mouths should always be the first place to check when a young horse goes off their feed. All of these types of problems are things I see often with young horses and are generally centered around teeth.

Another common thing to have performed prior to sending a horse to the trainer is removal of the wolf teeth. Wolf teeth are small, thin teeth directly in front of the upper first premolar and can cause problems with the bit, often depending on where exactly they are positioned. Usually with the males, when they are down for their castration, we go ahead and remove the wolf teeth while under anesthesia. For the females, we usually do it prior to sending them to the trainer or any other time we have them tranquilized for something else. I do see a few older horses with wolf teeth remaining and, in theory, there is really no reason to remove them unless there is actually a problem with the bit. The procedure usually consists of tranquilizing the horse, loosening the gums around the attachment of the tooth, and then easing it out. This is a fairly straight forward procedure, but you should expect some bleeding since an otherwise healthy tooth is essentially being pulled.

So let’s now talk basics as far as what exactly is proper equine dental care. Well, brushing and flossing after each meal is the key.....just kidding. Actually, when you look at a horse’s upper arcade (top teeth) versus their lower arcade (bottom teeth), their upper arcade extends out over the lower arcade slightly (see Figure 2). This is normal in horses because the lower jaw (mandible) is not as wide as the upper jaw (maxillae). When these “hypsodont” teeth continue to grow, the outer edge of the upper arcade and the inner edge of the lower arcade will develop points. We file off or “float” these points allowing the horses to maintain a flat grinding surface in the back of their mouth. And a horse’s nerve endings are deep down inside the teeth for all of you clients who cringe and exclaim loudly, “GEE, I’m sure glad you’re not MY dentist.” Floating the teeth is not painful to the horse unless you catch the gum slightly (which sometimes happens when you’re trying to get the very back, upper teeth). As far as examining your horse, the best way to see in your horse’s mouth is to lift his upper lip, then pull out his cheek with your other hand and peer in there with a flashlight. This is a great way to see the upper arcade’s front few teeth. Then you need to grab their tongue and open their mouth to see all the inside lower arcade (not recommending you do this unless you know what you’re doing). The only good way to get an idea of what is on the very back, upper arcade teeth is to either put a full mouth speculum or a side speculum (something to hold the horse’s mouth open) and to literally stick your hand back there and feel what is up there (again, don’t do this at home folks unless you like the nickname stubby). Another good way to evaluate your own horse is to open the lips and look at the incisors (front teeth) as his mouth is closed, and they should be lined up not only side to side but also up and down. Then holding his jaws closed, grind his mouth from side to side and you should hear a nice grinding sound and his incisors should be able to move almost an inch side to side. If they don’t move well from side to side or you hear a “clunking” noise coming from the back of his mouth, he likely has points on his teeth. Annual examinations and routine floating will help keep your horse the most comfortable by grinding their feed most efficiently and maintaining healthier teeth will keep your horse in good body condition.

So what can go wrong? Well the majority of the problems that can occur center mainly around two main components: 1. Horses’ teeth are hypsodont. 2. Alignment of the teeth. But wait, we said hypsodont teeth are a good thing, right? Well yes, but it does have some drawbacks. For a horse’s mouth to work properly both the upper and lower opposing teeth need to be present and healthy; it’s a system of checks and balances. When the upper 2nd premolar grows down and the lower 2nd premolar grows up, they meet in the middle and keep each other at a proper length and wear at each other. So, what if the lower one is missing. Uh-oh is right...the upper premolar keeps growing down to the point of even growing into the gums, looking for something to wear against. This can happen to any of the teeth if one is missing. Also if the teeth aren’t properly aligned, there can be overgrowth as well. For example, take a horse with a severe overbite. Picture the upper jaw (maxillae) pushed forward over an inch. This will cause the front incisors, the first upper premolar and the very back, lower molar to not have an opposing tooth to wear against. The exact opposite occurs with an underbite. Therefore, these three areas need to be evaluated regularly to allow the horse to grind his feed effectively. Most horses, unless they have some other type of disease, will not have problems with tartar accumulation and other things we associate with human dental problems. An exception would be for the males around their canine teeth; that area can accumulate tartar that I usually chip off with my annual examinations. As horses grow older these hypsodont teeth, to put it simply, just run out. There is a predetermined length to horses’ teeth. They are long and extend up (and down) into the jaws and as the roots grow out to the end these teeth can become loose; they can fall out or be so loose they need to be removed; they can become infected and need to be cared for, etc... That is why older horses often need more regular care as well.

The benefits to good dental care in horses are limitless. This is why an annual dental examination is a requirement with all physical examinations for all Greener Pastures Veterinary Clinic patients. When I see a thin horse, my first thing to consider is teeth. (Followed by numbers two and three...What is he getting fed? When’s the last time he was dewormed?) I don’t know how many horses I’ve seen for weight problems that the owners have changed diets on four times, tried every weight builder supplement out on the market, dewormed four times and finally decided to have a veterinarian evaluate him, just to find out he can’t grind his feed effectively. The best feed in the entire world won’t do any good if it comes out whole in his manure the next day. You want to save money on your feed bill? Get dental care on your horse regularly. Almost every choke (a blockage of food in the esophagus) I see are in horses with poor teeth. When a horse can’t chew his feed well, he swallows particles that are too big and they can get stuck. Also, many of my colics have poor teeth. IF the large particles get past the esophagus, they can accumulate to create impactions; or the colon has to work extra hard to break them down or just passes them out the other end. You want to save money on emergency calls? Get dental care on your horse regularly. And we’ve already talked about the importance of working on young horses prior to sending them to the trainer; so you won’t be wasting your money.

So how do you know if your horse is having problems? Well, you can do the little trick we talked about to see if you can hear and see good grinding. You can also look for some tell tale signs of teeth problems in adult horses: 1. head tilt when eating, 2. dropping feed while eating, 3. excessive drooling when eating, 4. poor weight gain, 5. whole feed particles in the manure, 6. quidding (dropping out large balls of hay or grass out of the mouth when eating) etc.. However, some horses can compensate so well for these dental abnormalities that you may never know until a thorough dental examination is performed; so don’t go by clinical signs alone. Annual examinations and dental care are usually sufficient unless something is abnormal, and we will make the appropriate recommendations as to how often they should be evaluated.

I cannot stress enough the importance of routine dental care for your horses. If you feel like your horses may have a dental problem, if they haven’t had dental work performed within the last 1-2 years, or if you are getting ready to send a young horse to the trainer, I implore upon you to get a dental examination performed on your horse. If you have any further questions please contact us or email us at questions@greenerpasturesvet.com.

Goat Talk

Okay, all of you goat owners should be so pleased with me since I recently went to a conference for continuing education. While I was there, I went to a small ruminant lecture to learn more about some of my smaller patients. This was one of the more interesting topics of discussion about basic preventative care in goats.

The topic of deworming came up and I guess I need to print a retraction (Summer 2003) about my previous recommendations. I personally haven’t had that much luck with oral dewormers thus I liked the injectable dewormers better. However, the studies they have performed on small ruminants show that the injectable dewormers do not work as effectively as the oral dewormers, BUT you have to deworm them properly. So let’s discuss the proper way to deworm our favorite small ruminant, the goat.

The doctor that spoke told us to make sure our clients, “Deworm like they mean it!!”. Since you are trying to get the most out of your dewormer without creating resistance (i.e. the worms develop resistance to the medicine and it won’t work the next time), you need to follow some steps. 1. Hold the animals off feed for 12-24 hours. And no…they won’t starve to death when you do it. Holding off feed means NOTHING by mouth, not just withholding their grain and allowing them to graze out in the pasture. Lock them in a stall and they get nothing to eat only water to drink. 2. Use two times the normal dose that is listed for sheep or goats. 3. Make sure you deworm them orally and give it over their tongue not just in the side of their cheek. 4. Repeat the dose in 12 hours for Panacur® or 24 hours for Levamisole®. And remember that most modern dewormers (except levamisole) are extremely safe, so if they spit out most of the dewormer after you give it…go ahead and give more.

Now here’s the kicker. There is a new method called the FAMACHA theory of deworming goats. The worst parasite that can be a problem in goats, both because they can do so much damage (goats can lose up to a cup of blood per day because of them) and because they are so prolific (a female can lay over 5000 eggs per day) is Haemonchus contortus, also known as the “barber pole worm”. With the horrible threat of parasite resistance and the fact that there is not any work on getting new dewormers out on the market for goats, we are faced with the horrible prospect that someday we may have nothing effective for goats. The FAMACHA theory (developed in South Africa) uses a color chart to compare the color of your goat’s eyelids to five different examples. By this comparison it lets you know whether you should deworm or not, based on the possible anemia (low red blood cells) that your goat may be experiencing, basing it on color of mucous membranes. In other words, they are recommending that you not deworm healthy, good body condition, non-anemic animals to help prevent resistance. So when you DO need the dewormer, it will work for you. And yes, I’m trying to get my hands on some of those cards and I’ll keep you posted on it.

I also learned of a test called DrenchRite that uses a pooled fecal sample from 10-12 animals and tests for resistance to the three classes of dewormers in goats. The doctor recommended herds’ owners perform this test every 2 years to make sure your dewormers are going to be effective. Another important tip is to prevent overgrazing on your pastures and rotating pastures so they do not get over burdened with parasite eggs. So, in the end…the take home message is this. You may not need to routinely deworm your goats every few months. The most effective way of deworming may be comparing their mucous membranes to a color chart to determine anemia, doing fecal examination on your herd to check for parasites, and when you do need to deworm….“deworm like you mean it!”.

Did You Know?
The clover in your pasture can be parasitized by a fungus called Rhizoctonia leguminicola which produces an alkaloid called slaframine which can be responsible for the “lovely” drooling we see in horses off the pasture. The slaframine stimulates the salivary glands and smooth muscles and the horse appears to have a faucet turned on in his mouth. This mold can be found on red, white and alsike clover as well as on alfalfa. This mold grows best in wet weather and in high humidity (sound familiar), which indicates why I’ve gotten several phone calls about slobbering horses lately. It can also live on in baled hay and maintain its toxicity for several years. Signs usually begin about an hour after eating the affected legume and may last up to three days. Removing horses from the pasture and cutting down the pasture with a mower usually allows the horses to recover uneventfully.

Birth Announcements
Greener Pastures Veterinary Clinic, Inc. is pleased to announce all the new arrivals to our care. Let’s pass out the cigars (uh, okay maybe carrots) and celebrate.

Mares that had fillies: Goin On Faith owned by Bob & Tara Kaper on 03-15, Suzie Vanderhoozie owned by Lisa & Charles Gamblin on 03-24, Brandy owned by Jim & Wendy Guth on 03-28, Gina owned by Kathy & William Maniszko on 04-01, Cassie owned by Pinky & Roland Janota on 04-15, Cassie owned by Tina & Ronald Yakimow on 05-01, Misty owned by Cindy Milner on 05-06, Felene owned by Wisdom Ranch on 05-14, Diamond Satin owned by Pinky & Roland Janota on 05-17, Zippy owned by Tom Parisi on 05-18, Peaks Precious Moments (PJ) owned by Shannon Williams on 05-28, Chics Luv Diamonds owned by Bob & Virginia Rudofski on 06-04, Gray Mare owned by Martin Herrera on 06-09, Marilyn owned by Pinky & Roland Janota on 07-22.

Mares that had colts: Lacey owned by Jeanie & David Kopka on 03-26, Robin - colt owned by Virginia Fox on 04-06, Bailey owned by Teri & Ken Clemans on 04-15, Lilly owned by Deb & Paul Johnson on 5-10, Winning Bets owned by Todd Reinert on 07-03.

And yes, it looks like the girls won this year.

Horses In Our Lives
Our lives with horses are rich with feeling. One of my clients sent this wonderful email and I was so surprised on how many of these I’ve experienced and how reading it made me feel. I hope all of you enjoy it as much as I did.

If you’ve ever...

choked back tears watching a new foal wobble to his feet for the first time or watching your good horse wobble to his feet after surgery...

or seen the ends of the reins float straight out as a reining horse spins beneath them...

or chuckled to yourself as you watched a tiny tot on a patient pony trot through a barrel pattern at a saddle club playday...

or felt the building tremble as an eight-up hitch of feather-legged giants towed a hand-carved beer wagon into the arena...

or had your heart stop when you saw your horse lying motionless in the pasture on a sunny day -- and waited breathlessly to see an ear flicker...

or cheered at the screen when The Man From Snowy River slid Dunnie down the mountainside, or when Seabiscuit made his final surge to best War Admiral...

or cruised along the highway and seen a horse in the pasture and wondered what he’s like to ride... or pictured him as a prospect..

or sucked in your breath as a horse and rider approached a six-foot wall...

or sworn a solemn oath to your horse that together you would triumph...

or flipped through the TV channels and stopped when you saw a horse... even when it was a commercial...

or laughed aloud when you rubbed your horse’s face and he rubbed back...

or gotten chills hearing Dave Johnson’s “...and DOWN THE STRETCH THEY COME!”

or stood in awe at your horse in morning play as he sprinted around the pasture, then stopped, head erect, and snorted defiance at the rest of the world...

or been thankful to see wild horses grazing casually at the foot of a hill...

or felt calmed by the sleekness of a silky haircoat beneath your hand...

or felt your jaw drop as you watched a Lipizzan perform a capriole...

or felt warmed by a soft nicker greeting you as you entered the barn.

If you’ve ever been moved by any of these feelings, then you know the joy and fulfillment that having horses in your life can bring you.