Vet clinic Should a horse’s

Should wolf teeth be ex­tracted be­fore they be­come trou­ble­some? An­drea Oakes in­ves­ti­gates

Horse & Hound - - On The Cover - H&H

wolf teeth be ex­tracted?

LIKE chest­nuts, er­gots and splint bones, wolf teeth have be­come func­tion­less in the course of evo­lu­tion. Yet these pointed or peg-shaped cu­riosi­ties can be sur­pris­ingly prob­lem­atic.

“Wolf teeth push through the gums when the horse is between five and 12 months old,” says Na­dine Page MRCVS, of Page and Gun­stone Equine Vets in Cheshire. “Un­like other teeth, they do not con­tinue grow­ing and stay rel­a­tively small through­out the horse’s life. They usu­ally emerge only from the top gums, although some horses grow them top and bot­tom.”

The lo­ca­tion of wolf teeth in the in­ter­den­tal space — the gummy gap between the bit­ing in­cisors and the mo­lars (cheek teeth) — means that they are some­times con­fused with the deeper-rooted “ca­nines” or “tushes” that can emerge in the same area. Ca­nines ap­pear fur­ther to­wards the in­cisors, how­ever, and are rarely seen in mares. But both sexes can grow wolf teeth — and it’s their sit­u­a­tion just in front of the pre­mo­lars (the first cheek teeth) that can cause dis­com­fort.

“In most horses, the bit lies in con­tact with the lower jaw and does not usu­ally in­ter­fere with wolf teeth in the up­per jaw,” ex­plains Na­dine. “Where head car­riage is higher, how­ever,

in race­horses and some sport horses, the bit can catch the wolf teeth and cause pain. It’s thought that be­hav­iour such as pulling, head-toss­ing and rear­ing may be as­so­ci­ated with this.

“Teeth that aren’t tight and close to the pre­mo­lars seem to be most trou­ble­some.”


WHILE wolf teeth do not cause dis­com­fort for all horses, some own­ers choose to have them re­moved be­fore work starts — just in case. Is rou­tine ex­trac­tion a good idea?

“Re­moval al­lows bet­ter ac­cess to pre­mo­lars so that they can be shaped at rasp­ing, a pro­ce­dure called bit-seat­ing,” says Na­dine. “There’s also less risk of the horse de­vel­op­ing be­havioural prob­lems or bad habits as­so­ci­ated with den­tal dis­com­fort, and no need for a training break for re­moval if wolf teeth later prove prob­lem­atic.

“There’s no chance, how­ever, to see whether re­moval is re­ally nec­es­sary for that horse.”

Na­dine ex­plains that re­moval should al­ways be per­formed on the se­dated horse by a vet, or a qual­i­fied equine den­tal tech­ni­cian un­der vet­eri­nary su­per­vi­sion.

“The pre­ferred method is to use an in­stru­ment called an el­e­va­tor to stretch and sep­a­rate the pe­ri­odon­tal lig­a­ment sur­round­ing the tooth,” she says. “This should loosen the tooth suf­fi­ciently for easy re­moval with for­ceps. There are also in­stru­ments that can be used to cut and knock the tooth out.

“Re­moval is not with­out risk — the big­gest be­ing damage to the pala­tine artery in the roof of the mouth, which can cause a nasty bleed. There’s also a pos­si­bil­ity of leav­ing part of the root in the gum, although this is usu­ally ab­sorbed by the body and rarely causes a prob­lem.

“Ex­trac­tion can be tricky in the younger horse, where there’s lit­tle tooth crown to grasp, or with a ‘blind’ tooth that has yet to erupt through the gum,” she adds. “Most removals are straight­for­ward, though, and heal quickly with rest and painkillers. The horse should not be bit­ted for a few days and the hole should be flushed with wa­ter to re­move food.”

De­cid­ing whether to ex­tract first or wait and see is dif­fi­cult, says Na­dine, be­cause knowl­edge is largely anec­do­tal or based on opin­ion.

“We would gen­er­ally rec­om­mend rou­tine re­moval of wolf teeth that are not very close to the pre­mo­lars, as well as those in horses with high head car­riage,” she con­cludes.

this horse has two wolf teeth Wolf teeth mostly emerge from the top gums

wolf teeth (cir­cled) in front of pre­mo­lars of­ten cause dis­com­fort

Though small, wolf teeth can cause pain and be­havioural prob­lems

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