Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Harv's dental dilemma, Part II

So as many of you know, Harv is not eating well due to an uneven bite surface.  Remember my last post, I wondered if  if this was an equine dental error? It's possible, but as I thought about it I realized that Harv had not seen a dentist in a little over a year when I noticed the difficulty eating. If it were a result of a poor filing job I'd think it would be evident soon after the work was done. Anyhoo, we'll never know. What is to be done for my boy? According to my vet, the recommended actions are...
  • Talk to my current equine dentist (who has a great reputation). See  if he thinks filing down the rear molars would help even him up. This is risky  and therefore not something I'm willing to try, at least not right now. Maybe in six months.
  • Buy cubed or processed hay, or cut hay into smaller pieces. My vet says   it isn't so much the coarseness of the hay as the length that makes chewing difficult.
  • Feed soft hay when possible. Some commenters have recommended steamed hay.
  • Check his poop. Look for...
    • Rough, course-looking poop (a sign his gut is doing the work his teeth can't do)
    • Reduction in poop (means he's eating less)
    • Normal poop accompanied by excess water during elimination. It's gross, but to be more descriptive, normal poop followed by a "squirt" of clear liquid indicates a problem.
  • Look for partially chewed pieces of hay (cuds) in his stall. 
A sad, sick feeling...
I tried to catch his eating behavior on video, so that others might recognize the problem in their own old friends -- but it didn't seem right to stand there with a camcorder while he struggled to chew.  The thought of Harv, whose greatest joy is eating, standing hungry with food in front of him -- it just breaks my heart. I've been blessed to have a horse who seems ageless. If only it could go on forever.
    The good news is, Harv is in very good weight right now, the latest hay shipment is really soft, and it's possible his teeth might still grow a little at this point. Let's hope!


    1. I have a 27-year old mare who was not maintaining her weight on her normal hay/pasture/feed regime. Her teeth were decent for her age, but she does have a "wave mouth."

      She's now on a complete senior feed diet that was developed by Eleanor Kellon and is served wet - I divide it into 4 feeds/day and she gets all her nutrition from the tubs.

      She still eats free-choice hay and grazes, but I no longer have to worry whether or not she's getting what she needs. Her weight is wonderful and she loves her wet tubs.

      Not sure if this might be an option, but it has worked for a number of people I know with aging horses.

    2. I agree about a soaked feed, especially pellets. Hay cubes soaked too are good.

      The senior feed Billie mentions might be extra good but I don't know anything about it. My horses have always been on pellets and I've never had chewing issues in the older guys.

      Most pelleted feeds soak down to a nice slop and horses do seem to enjoy slurping them up.

    3. I third the soaked feed idea. I've had great success with both commercial senior complete feeds and hay cubes soaked to a mush/slop. Different horses have different preferences for the consistency of their feed and this has proven to be a key to the feeding dilemma, IME.

      Best wishes for Harv!

    4. Same kind of thing happening here. My old mare had trouble chewing, I had a professional dentist out, I thought he did a good job, I checked it myself. Yet she STILL has trouble eating!! Drops grain like crazy.
      4 flakes of alfalfa hay a day, plus 5 lbs of senior feed, plus recently rice bran, per my vet. Her weight still isn't good. I'm at a loss as to what to do next. See a different dentist?
      She won't eat wet food either. Not having that. Very picky, slow eater.
      I hope Harv continues to do well. Sounds like you're doing all you can!

    5. Another vote for a wet senior diet. We have a 34 year old morgan gelding who is missing a ton of teeth, and the ones that are left are what the dentist called "end stage", meaning they will not grow any more. He gets Equine Senior and soaked alfalfa cubes 3-4 times a day and loves it. He gets turnout on grass and does eat the grass. He also gets a little bit of hay, only soft stuff, just to occupy him. His weight is fabulous and he looks great!

    6. Hay cubes are wonderful. Not only do they provide easy to eat forage, but they also provide an extra dose of water each day. Dehydration can be a problem in older horses too, so it's a win-win. As you undoubtedly know, the cubes come in timothy only and timothy/alfalfa.

    7. My 29 year old gelding is doing great on the senoir feed that is watered into a mash. He loves to share with me, especially when I have to get to class. We actually had to decrease his food a little this summer because he was a little on the chinky side.
      Good luck with Harv, you will figure out what he needs.

    8. Definitely agree on the soaked alfalfa pellets -- you can put a bunch in a (clean, of course!) muck bucket with water & let them soak for a while. They're easy to eat & pack weight on very nicely. You could also soak Senior feed & mix it in, as others have suggested.

    9. If his weight is still good, and this shipment of hay is good, then I'd keep what you're doing at status quo. You don't want an overly heavy 20+ year old Tb anymore than you want a skinny 20+ year old Tb (but you already know that!). Keep doing what you're doing and keep the soaking in the back of your mind for this winter. Chances are, you might have to break that out this winter. Personally, I don't think it's quite time for that just yet.

      Hope you can find a solution that you, your barn owner and most importantly Harvey will all be happy with. :)


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