For most of a horse’s life, his teeth continually erupt, meaning they emerge through the gums to replace what is worn away by chewing--sort of like the lead of a mechanical pencil. In a young horse, there are two to 3 inches of “reserve” tooth below the gum line. By the time a horse reaches his mid-20s, however, this reserve is depleted, leaving him vulnerable to periodontal disease and tooth loss.
What you can do: The best thing you can do to care for an older horse’s teeth is to schedule dental checkups with a veterinarian every six months. During these checkups, your veterinarian can identify any issues that need to be addressed before they become significant. If your horse develops problems chewing, you may need to eliminate hay from his diet,
replacing it with chopped forage or a complete pelleted feed. It can also be helpful to soak his grain or pellets in warm water for a few minutes before feeding.
And don’t forget treats: Apples, carrots and crunchy treats can pose a choke risk to horses who cannot chew well. Cut them into small pieces or opt instead for goodies that dissolve, such as peppermints--but be mindful of the sugar they may contain. A good option for horses with metabolic syndrome or otherwise at increased risk for laminitis are the easy-tochew, low-starch treats that are now available. When to worry: If your older horse loses weight despite good overall health and an adequate ration, he may be having trouble chewing so schedule a veterinary visit to investigate. Likewise, call your veterinarian if partially chewed feed or hay drops from his mouth as he eats or if he suddenly refuses to eat. Finally, make it a habit to sniff your horse’s breath each day as you groom: A foul odor could indicate infection or illness that needs to be investigated without delay.
Caring for an old horse can be rewarding. Sharing leisurely grooming sessions with him or just watching him doze in the sun will fill your heart. Don’t let those moments be crowded out by needless worry about his health. Just keep in mind what’s normal, and be ready to act if something goes wrong. Then simply enjoy time with your old friend.