12 Ways Your Horse Tells You It Needs Its Teeth Checked

Horse with mouth wide open
Jordan Siemens / Getty Images

How do you know when your horse needs its teeth checked? Quite often they tell you, but you might mistake it for bad or odd behavior.

You may discipline your horse or put on a noseband to make it mind the bit. Or, you may change bits, put on martingales or tie downs, or use other gear designed to keep your horse’s head where it belongs. You may change feeds, buckets, or other aspects of your horse's environment. But, your horse could be acting up or doing strange things because it is experiencing discomfort and pain.

Ideally, your horse’s teeth should be checked by a professional at least once a year. Learn the signs that tell you it's time to call an equine dentist or veterinarian to check your horse’s teeth, even if it has been less than a year.

  • 01 of 12

    Fussing With the Bit

    Close up of horse's muzzle and bit.

    Henrik Sorensen /Getty Images

    A horse that fusses with the bit may be reacting to discomfort caused solely by the bit, or as with head tossing, dental problems that make holding onto the bit uncomfortable. Sometimes extra teeth could be the problem, and your horse might need either a bit seat or to have teeth removed. 

  • 02 of 12

    Quidding or Spitting out Hay

    Close up of horse with hay in its mouth.

    Rebecca Conrad / EyeEm /Getty Images

    Quidding is when a horse spits out balls of hay it has already chewed. A horse that quids is not swallowing its food properly. This can cause the horse to lose conditioning, as its full nutritional needs are not being met.

  • 03 of 12

    Head Tossing

    Horse wearing an English bridle.

    Anja Hild / Getty Images

    There are a few reasons your horse might toss its head while being ridden. It may be reacting to how you use the reins. It could have problems carrying the bit, or it may have dental problems that cause continuous discomfort, or just when it wears a bit.

  • 04 of 12

    Weight Loss and Poor Overall Health

    Side view of white pony with ribs showing and long mane.

    Jose A. Bernat Bacete / Moment Open / Getty Images

    If your horse cannot chew properly, it will not be able to extract all the nutrition it needs out of fibrous fodder, such as grass or hay. Bad teeth can contribute to weight loss. A horse that cannot chew properly is also prone to choke and impaction colic.

    Continue to 5 of 12 below.
  • 05 of 12

    Slow Eating

    Girl standing watch horse eat from bucket on opposite side of fence.

    Inti St Clair / Blend Images / Getty Images

    If your horse has broken teeth, infected gums, sore cheeks, or any other discomfort in its mouth caused by dental problems, it may chew its food very slowly. This can lead to weight loss and poor nutrition, especially if it is rushed in any way, say by other horses, that want to steal its food.

  • 06 of 12

    Balkiness, Bolting, and Spooking

    Rider galloping through forest on horse.

    Evelyn Steinweg / Getty Images

    Some horses have no tolerance for pain and will act out by becoming resistant. Some will become spooky and are likely to bolt at the slightest distraction. Others will be quite stoic and will put up with a lot, which is why regular dental care is important.

  • 07 of 12

    Spilling Grain

    Girl feeding a brown horse out of bucket..

    Dorling Kindersley / Bob Langrish / Getty Images

    A horse that eats by spilling or throwing grain may be anxious about its food. Also, it might be trying to keep an eye out for any other horses that may try to steal its food. Or, the horse may just have a difficult time holding the grain in its mouth and chewing, because of dental problems. Because the grain might not be ground up (or chewed) properly, choking can result.

  • 08 of 12

    Bad Odor

    Horse's nose.

    K. Blocksdorf

    If there is a bad odor coming from your horse’s mouth or nose, suspect an infection of the gums or elsewhere in the mouth. This might be the only sign of a potential problem that might require treatment with dental work and antibiotics. 

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  • 09 of 12


    Close up of horse with drool dripping from lower lip.

    Moment Open / saulgranda / Getty Images

    Horses may drool or slobber after having eaten plants with fungi or some other irritating substance. Also, something might be embedded in the gums or under the tongue, or the horse might have a dental problem. Some horses drool when they have a bit in, and that is pretty normal. But if you are not sure, it is probably best to call a vet or equine dentist.

  • 10 of 12

    Sinus Discharge

    Close up of horse nostrils from the side front.

    Lois Norris / EyeEm / Getty Images

    A small trickle of clear or slightly milky fluid is normal from your horse's nose. A yucky running nose can be a sign of not only a sinus infection, but of a dental infection. Your vet will help you find the cause of the discharge and advise you on the best treatment.

  • 11 of 12

    Head Shy

    Girl doing up bridle buckle on palomino horse.

    Thomas Northcut / DigitalVision / Getty Images

    If your horse is head shy and will not let you touch, groom, or put the bridle on, then a painful dental problem could be the cause.

  • 12 of 12


    Draft horse drinking from trough in sandy and muddy paddock.

    Orenda Randuch / EyeEm / Getty Images

    Horses with bad dental problems may be hesitant to drink cold water. A lack of water can lead to choke and impaction colic, along with difficulty getting all the necessary nutrition from the food. If you suspect a dental problem, it might be wise to wet your horse’s feed and provide warmed water until a professional can help you sort out the problem.