Adult male horses have 40 teeth while adult female horses have between 36 and 40 teeth – 12 incisors, 12 premolars, 12 molars, 2 short teeth (wolf teeth) in front of upper premolars which are usually removed. Males have 2 pairs of canines behind the molars.
Horse’s teeth are hysodont which means they continuously erupt from the gum. The constant chewing wears the teeth down exposing more of hidden tooth. Most of the approximately 4 inches of tooth is below the gum. As a horse ages, teeth may be lost or the remaining teeth are worn too smooth for chewing.
The loss of teeth can mean that the horse is not getting the proper nutrition as s/he cannot chew and digest food well. The horse’s ability to graze is compromised, affecting digestion and health.
Horses with incisors missing have difficulty reducing the size of grains. Those with molars gone cannot grind the feed. Because of the missing teeth, food can clump and become stuck in the esophagus causing choke.
But there are feed options for horses without teeth that will provide them with the necessary nutrients.
Horses should continue to have access to pasture or hay unless they are prone to choke. Alternative fiber sources can be chopped forage, hay cubes, pellets, beet pulp.
Grains such as oats and soybeans should be in pellet form or extruded. Feed forage beforehand to slow ingestion of pellets.
Pellets are formed by feed being ground and mixed together, pressed through a die and cut to desired length.
With extrusion, grains are ground and mixed together, exposed to high steam and pressure, pressed through a die after which they expand and form the shape of kibble. Extrusion improves starch and protein digestion.
If you wish to feed what are called Complete feeds, check labels to make sure they have all the necessary nutrients included. They can be fed with or without forage.
Horses missing teeth or without any teeth do best with 3 or 4 meals evenly spaced throughout the day to cut down the risk of digestion upsets.
Feed can be moistened just before mealtime to make it easier to swallow and help prevent choke. Add 1 quart of water to 3 quarts of cubes, pellets or kibble. Check moistened feed to make sure it hasn’t turned moldy and cover it to prevent rodents or bugs from getting into it.
Horses, especially those with dental problems, should be examined by the vet frequently to check health.