DEN­TAL HEALTH

EQUUS - - Immune Function -

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.

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