Twelve Ways Your Horse is Telling You It Needs Its Teeth Checked

How do you know when your horse needs its teeth checked? Quite often they tell us, but put it down to bad or odd behavior. We discipline, or we put on a nose band to make it mind the bit, or we change bits, put on martingales or tie downs or other gear designed to keep our horse’s head where it belongs. Or we change feeds or buckets or other aspects of their environment. But, your horse could be acting up or doing strange things because it is experiencing discomfort and pain. Ideally, your...MORE horse’s teeth should be checked by a professional at least once a year.  Here are signs that it’s time to call an equine dentist or veterinarian to check your horse’s teeth even if it has been less time than that. 


  • 01 of 12

    Fussing With the Bit

    Close up of horse's muzzle and bit.
    Horse holding bit quietly. Image Credit:Stone/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 the bit uncomfortable. Sometimes extra teeth are the problem and your horse might need a bit seat or teeth removed. 

  • 02 of 12

    Quidding or Spitting Out Hay

    Close up of horse with hay in mouth.
    Horse eating hay. Image Credit:Rebecca Conrad / EyeEm /Getty Images

     Quidding is when a horse spits out balls of hay it has already chewed. You can learn more about the causes and effects of quidding in the article Help, My Horse is Spitting Out Food – Quidding .

  • 03 of 12

    Head Tossing

    Leather English Bridle
    Head tossing can mean a sore mouth. Image Credit:Anja Hild /Getty Images

     There are a few reasons your horse might toss its head when you ride it. It may be reacting to how you use your rein aids. It could have problems carrying the bit, or it may have dental problems that cause it discomfort all of the time, or just when it carries a bit. 

  • 04 of 12

    Weight Loss and Poor Overall Health

    Side view of white pony with ribs showing and long mane.
    A very skinny pony. Image Credit:Jose A. Bernat Bacete/Moment Open /Getty Images

    If your horse can’t chew properly it won’t be able to extract all the nutrition it needs out of fibrous fodder like grass or hay. Bad teeth can contribute to weight loss. A horse that can’t 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.
    Girl watching horse eat. Image Credit: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 who want to steal its food. 


  • 06 of 12

    Balkiness, Bolting and Spooking

    Rider galloping through forest on horse.
    Pain can make a horse less responsive to the bit. Image:Evelyn Steinweg/Getty Images

    Some horses have no tolerance for pain  and will act out by becoming resistant. Some will act in the opposite way, becoming spooky and perhaps bolting at every opportunity. 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 brown horse out of bucket.
    Girl feeding horse from bucket. Image Credit: Dorling Kindersley/Bob Langrish/Getty Images

    A horse that eats and spills or throws grain all over may be anxious about its food and trying to keep an eye out for anyone who might be trying to steal it. Or, because of dental problems the horse may just have a difficult time holding the grain in its mouth and chewing. Because the grain might not be ground up properly, choke can result. 


  • 08 of 12

    Bad Odor

    Horse's nose.
    Horse's nose. Image: 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 that there is a problem that might have to be treated with dental work and antibiotics. 

    Continue to 9 of 12 below.
  • 09 of 12


    Close up of horse with drool dripping from lower lip.
    Horse drooling. Image Credit: Moment Open/saulgranda/Getty Images

     Horses drool or slobber because they have eaten plants with fungi that makes them drool, an irritating substance, something embedded in the gums, tongue or palate or they might have a dental problem. Some horses drool when they have the bit in, and it's pretty normal. But if you're not sure, it’s time to call a vet or equine dentist. 

  • 10 of 12

    Sinus Discharge

    Close up of horse nostrils from the side front.
    Horse nose. Image Credit: 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 not only of a sinus infection, but of a dental infection. Your vet will help you find the cause of discharge and advise you on the best treatment. 


  • 11 of 12

    Head Shy

    Girl doing up bridle buckle on palomino horse.
    Girl bridling horse. Image Credit:Thomas Northcut/ DigitalVision /Getty Images

     If your horse is head shy and won’t let you touch, groom or put the bridle on a painful dental problem could the cause.

  • 12 of 12


    Draft horse drinking from trough in sandy and muddy paddock.
    Large horse drinking. Image Credit:Orenda Randuch / EyeEm /Getty Images

     Horses with bad dental problems may be hesitant to drink cold water. Lack of water can lead to choke and impaction colic along with difficulty getting all the nutrition it needs from its 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.