5. DENTAL I SSUES
Regular dental examinations from an early age can help identify many oral problems when they are still treatable.
youngsters, along with tetanus . You want to get the immunity started.”
Vaccination alone, however, isn’t enough to protect young horses from infectious diseases. “To rely on vaccines without biosecurity is a huge mistake,” says Connally. “To prevent strangles, influenza and rhino requires a good biosecurity program.”
Biosecurity measures focus on reducing a horse’s exposure to pathogens---from other horses to water buckets---especially when traveling. “When I worked with racehorses I had one client who every year could count on his 2-year-olds doing fine in training and staying incredibly healthy at his place---and then he’d take them to the track and half of them would be unable to run in their first race because of respiratory disease. This illustrates the biosecurity issue,” says Connally. “Exposure is a big part of the picture.”
When you take a young horse on the road, don’t allow him to come in direct contact with any unfamiliar horses. This means no nose-to-nose “introductions,” no matter how cute. Also, do not share tack, water buckets or other equipment with unfamiliar horses. Back at home, isolate any potentially ill animal, those returning from stays off the farm or those with unknown vaccination histories until you are sure they are healthy.
Like older horses, youngsters need regular dental care---or at least examinations. Foals who have bite abnormalities, such as parrot mouth, can outgrow them, but only with regular dental care. “A person has to be proactive while these babies are young and the jaw is still growing---and you have a chance to make a difference. There is a lot of plasticity in young growing bones,” says Nelson.
But even if a horse has a normal bite at birth, it still pays to monitor his teeth and mouth as he grows. Temporary molars usually push up through the gums sometime during the foal’s first month of life, and these “baby” teeth remain in place until they are pushed out by emerging permanent teeth. In humans, baby teeth come loose and fall out as permanent teeth come in, but in horses the baby teeth deteriorate as the new permanent teeth start to erupt. They become hollow and are then called “caps,” which are shed as the permanent teeth come in. The first set of caps shed when the horse is about 2 ½ years old, the second set at 3 years of age, and the final set of caps comes off when a horse is about 3 ½ to 4 years old.
Not all young horses follow a textbook schedule, however, and complications may develop. Sometimes these caps do not detach from the gums as they should when the permanent teeth are pushing them out, explains Nelson. This condition is called a retained cap and can cause pain, inflammation of the gums and, if it involves the upper jaw, sometimes sinus problems. If the retained cap is not removed, it may force the new