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Horse Teeth and How To Feed Those With Dental Issues

Horses are living longer and in many cases are outliving their teeth. This can make feeding old horses with bad teeth, and even no teeth, a challenge. When horse’s teeth become loose, worn or missing, it can make chewing difficult and prevent the horse from receiving the essential nutrients from their diet to be healthy and happy.

It’s not just old horses with no teeth or poor dental health that can be a challenge to feed. Horses of all ages can suffer with diastemas (horse teeth that have abnormal gaps). This often means that the horse cannot manage long length forage, which should make up at least half of every horse’s diet, and thus weight loss and colic can occur. A study funded by Dengie showed that when high fibre materials were provided in a form the horse could manage, they were able to consume just as much as a horse with normal dentition.

Signs of Bad Horse Teeth And Dental Issues

Struggling to chew is the most obvious sign of issues with your horse’s teeth. Look out for chewed up balls of forage accumulating at the bottom of the hay net and quidding where the horse spills and drops feed as they chew.

Foul smelling breath and pain when chewing can also indicate tooth abscesses or the presence of compacted feed in a diastema. Feeding horses with diastemas can be challenging as food is likely to become lodged in gaps.

Weight loss, choke and colic can also be signs your horse has dental issues.

If you are concerned about your horse’s teeth, you should always consult a vet or equine dental practitioner to inspect your horse’s teeth.

Feeding Horses with Poor Teeth

It is vital to be aware that poor dentition can lead to a reduced consumption of food, and thus energy, in comparison to horses with good teeth. This is particularly important for those kept in groups and offered forage together – horses with poor teeth may miss out on their allocation of feed. By providing fibre in a form the horse can manage to chew it ensures that they are still receiving all the vital nutrients to keep them healthy.

Short chopped fibre feeds should be the first alternative when horses struggle to chew long length forage. This is because they still take more chewing than pelleted fibre, which is good if the horse can manage.

Pelleted fibres or horse feeds that need to be soaked can be fed to horses that struggle to chew even short chopped fibre.

Whether using chopped or pelleted fibre, it is still important to feed the same amount as you would have fed of hay, which is at least 1.5% of bodyweight per day.

Grass based chopped fibres or pellets can be fed at the same levels of hay. However, this may need to be reconsidered if your horse or pony is prone to laminitis as the concentration of sugar within a pellet which can be consumed more quickly than a grass hay may be too much. Consider diluting with fibres that are lower in sugar such as alfalfa, or straw, both of which are available in pelleted or chopped forms.

Feeding a digestive supplement that contains ingredients such as yeast and prebiotics will help to establish a healthy population of microbes in the gut that the horse relies on to digest fibre. Adding highly digestible fibre sources such as sugar beet is also beneficial and studies have shown also helps to improve the digestibility of other fibre sources in the diet.

Frequently Asked Questions

My horse has 3 big buckets of feed a day – is this too much?

The answer to this is it depends on what is in the bucket! If you are using a chopped fibre feed such as Alfa-A Oil then it is very voluminous and so a bucketful is probably about 1.5kgs (check this number!). The key thing is also that it is a high fibre feed and so can be thought of in the same way as forage – you wouldn’t be worried about feeding a bucketful of hay. High fibre feeds don’t overload the digestive system in the same way that cereal based feeds can and so it is perfectly acceptable to feed them in bigger quantities in one bucket. In fact, if your horse spends all night eating a big bucket of chopped fibre, it is a much more natural way to feed than giving a small meal of cereals. Horses would spend 16-18 hours a day grazing and the more we can replicate this in the stable the better.

With cereal based feeds, giving more than 1.5kgs in each feed is likely to reduce the efficiency with which the nutrients are absorbed and increases the risk of digestive upsets. It is far better to introduce a 4th feed than carry on with 3 large meals.

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