Nothing to smile about: Dental issues common in horses, survey shows

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Dental disease was the sixth most frequently recorded individual disease syndrome in Britain's National Equine Health Survey for 2017.
Dental disease was the sixth most frequently recorded individual disease syndrome in Britain’s National Equine Health Survey for 2017.

Tooth problems and dental disease are more prevalent in the equine population than commonly thought, a British survey has revealed.

Of the horses included in the latest National Equine Health Survey, 5.4% were suffering from trouble with their teeth. Dental disease was the sixth most frequently recorded individual disease syndrome in the survey¹.

The results, announced by animal health company Zoetis UK, suggest horses in the UK commonly have dental abnormalities and reiterate the importance of raising awareness of equine dental disease. In another veterinary study, dental abnormalities were detected in a huge 94% of geriatric horses yet only a quarter of these animals were reported by the owner to have a dental problem. Although this may in part be due to historical abnormalities detected at examination, the authors suggested that dental disease may be under-reported by owners².

The survey is an annual snapshot conducted by Blue Cross in conjunction with the British Equine Veterinary Association (BEVA). Some 5235 people took part in the 2017 survey and returned records for 15,433 horses. A total of 841 of these horses were recorded as having problems with their teeth, with 54% treated by a veterinarian and 46% receiving attention from an equine dental technician¹.

The general goals of equine dentistry include improving the chewing of food by helping to maintain even tooth wear.
The general goals of equine dentistry include improving the chewing of food by helping to maintain even tooth wear.

The horse has up to 44 teeth, set in a powerful jaw. As herbivores, horses munch their way through on average 2.5% of their bodyweight in forage and feed every day to maintain their weight – that’s 12.5kg (dry matter) of food chomping for a 500kg horse.

Horses can have many problems with their teeth such as loose or broken teeth, excessively worn teeth, infections and gum disease. It’s crucial to identify problems early, preferably before symptoms occur, to minimise discomfort and maximise chances of successful treatment. The 2017 survey showed that 92% of horses received regular dental checks with about two-thirds receiving annual checks and one-third receiving checks every six months.

Zoetis equine vet Dr Wendy Talbot said it could be tricky to know if a horse has dental problems, as owners could not see inside the mouth and there may not be any obvious symptoms.

“This is why regular check-ups are so important. It’s reassuring to see that a high percentage of horses are receiving regular dental checks. Ideally your horse’s teeth should be examined by your vet or qualified equine dental technician every six to 12 months.”

Zoetis has recently supported an equine dentistry roadshow with Chris Pearce MRCVS, founder of the Equine Dental Clinic, to help vets develop their knowledge and practical skills in equine dentistry.

References

1National Equine Health Survey 2017

The top five disease syndromes recorded this year were:

  • Skin diseases 31.1% compared to 25.5% in 2016 (17.2% in 2015, 18.3% in 2014, 14.6% in 2013 and 15.2% in 2010-12). Sweet itch and mud fever were the most frequently reported individual syndromes within this category and made up 6.1% of all returns (6.8% in 2016).
  • Lameness (including laminitis) 23.4% compared to 32.9%in 2016, (24.4% in 2015, 21% in 2014, 19.2% in 2013 and 12.9% in 2010-12). Overall, as in previous years, if laminitis is excluded from the analysis, lameness due to problems in the limbs proximal to the foot was more common than problems in the foot.
  • Metabolic diseases 8.1% with PPID (‘Equine Cushing’s disease’) accounting for 73.4% of this figure, consistent with previous NEHS findings.
  • Eye problems 7.6% with ocular discharge (weepy eye) accounting for 54.2% of all ocular syndromes recorded.
  • Gastrointestinal problems 7.5% with gastric ulcers accounting for 39% of this figure and 3% all syndromes recorded (2.7% in 2016).

Ireland J. L., Clegg P. D. , McGowan C. M. et al (2012) Comparison of owner-reported health problems with veterinary assessment of geriatric horses in the United Kingdom. Equine Veterinary Journal, 44 (2012) 94–100

National Research Council, Nutrient Requirements of Horses 2007 Sixth Revised Edition

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