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Feeding the toothless horse

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 Feeding the toothless horse


Written by Equestrian Life.

Just as humans lose teeth, so do horses. While as owners we might not be worried about our horses having a Hollywood smile, we should be concerned about how a lack of teeth affects their ability to eat!

Horses rely on their teeth to bite and chew their food — and thus digest and absorb nutrients efficiently. When horses begin to lose teeth, there are many issues that present themselves; not only can they struggle to graze, but a reduced ability to chew can also affect how well food is digested.

Why do horses lose teeth?

The main reason why horses lose teeth is periodontal disease, which is most common in older horses. Other issues that can lead to loss of teeth include tumours and cysts that need removing, as these can often result in the removal of teeth as well. Teeth can also become cracked (and subsequently infected), and when this occurs they generally need to be extracted to avoid further issues.
There is also the risk that as horses age, their teeth simply wear down through use; horses have “hypsodont” teeth, which means they erupt continuously from the gum. The chewing process compensates this by wearing them down, however missing teeth and other issues can cause teeth to wear unevenly (and therefore erupt unevenly). This in turn causes further issues for the horse. Over time, older horses’ teeth can also wear down and become too smooth — which doesn’t make them as useful for chewing!

Horses rely on their incisors to graze, so if your horse is missing many of these teeth then you can’t rely on pasture as a major nutrient source — especially if the grass is short and therefore difficult for the horse to grasp and bite!

Molars are to grind the food before swallowing, so a horse with missing molars will struggle with any food that requires much chewing, such as grains with hard coats, or long-stem grass and hay. For the latter, a poor ability to chew can lead to wads of forage forming and these can lodge in the oesophagus, causing choke.
In addition, older horses also struggle with compromised nutrient digestion – particularly in terms of protein and fibre.

How do I know my horse is missing teeth?

Knowing whether a horse has a full set of functioning teeth is not as obvious as it sounds — with adult horses having 12 incisors, 12 premolars, and 12 molars (plus two pairs of canine teeth between the incisors and premolars for males), there are lot of teeth up there — and it can be impossible to see up the back without the right equipment.

Some signs that your horse may have teeth complaints include:

  • Trouble chewing
  • Quidding forage (spitting out balls of chewed grass or hay)
  • Dropping feed
  • Slow eating
  • Weight loss
  • Issues accepting the bit/throwing head
  • Bad mouth odour
  • Nasal discharge (indicates infection)

If my horse has difficulty eating grass or hay, what should I feed instead?

Feeding the toothless horse can be tricky! Horse with missing teeth generally need supplementary feeding; if this is the case and a horse needs to obtain most of its nutrients and forage this way, then it’s important to break this feed down into as many smaller meals throughout the day to mimic a horse’s natural grazing pattern.

When it comes to hard feeding horses with dental issues, the best option is to choose a pelleted feed that is steam extruded – such as many of the products offered by Mitavite and Hygain. Steam-extrusion is the process where grain and mixes are filled with steam and water, and are then forced under high pressure through a barrel by a large screw. In a short period of time, the grain is heated to boiling point. It then passes through a die and is cut into shapes. The extruded nut is then dried, cooled and bagged. By providing a high temperature, high-pressure environment, the complex structures of starches, proteins and oils are untangled, making digestion and absorption easier for the horse. The result is feed that is not only easy to eat and swallow, but also more readily digestible even with minimal chewing.

For horses struggling to chew grass, hay and even chaff, Hygain’s FIBREESSENTIAL is a good option. High in soluble fibre and low in sugar, it is suitable for all equines regardless of age and use. MICRBEET provides digestible energy ranging between good quality hay and grains in the form of soluble fibre, as opposed to sourcing energy from starches and sugars – making this an ideal option for horses who not only suffer from poor teeth, but also metabolic issues!

Australia’s original and most trusted feed specifically formulated for older horses, Mitavite’s Gumnuts is a great option for horses who have trouble eating and digesting due to missing teeth – and are therefore struggling with maintaining their weight. It can be wetted down to form an easy-to-eat-mash, and being fully steam extruded it facilitates maximised digestion and nutrient utilisation. In fact, the majority of Mitavite’s steam extruded complete feed range can be dampened down to form a mash for horses with poor teeth — meaning there is a feed to suit a variety of nutritional needs.

It is of course best if a horse’s teeth are maintained throughout the course of its life, as this limits the chance of missing teeth as they age. For most horses, a yearly check up with an equine dentist is advisable, however horses with existing problems may need to be seen more regularly.

When it comes to your horses teeth, prevention is always the best option – however, we are fortunate to live in an age where there are innovative feeding options available to ensure that even a toothless horse doesn’t go hungry!

Two innovative leaders, Mitavite and Hygain have recently joined forces to share their experience and expertise. It’s the same great feeds from the same great Australian brands you can trust – now with twice the potential! Advice on how best to meet your horse’s individual nutritional needs can be found via the following links: Mitavite and Hygain.

Written in conjunction with Mitavite.




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