Horse Side Vet Guide ®

Equine Health Resource

Slobbering, Drooling or Salivating

Code Red - Call Your Vet Immediately, Even Outside Business Hours

Code Orange - Call Your Vet at Their First Available Office Hours

Code Red - Call Your Vet Immediately, Even Outside Business Hours

  • If the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE) indicate fever (Temp>101F/38.3C), or heart rate greater than 48 BPM that persists an hour after recovery from exercise.
  • If the horse seems to be having difficulty eating, in addition to showing this sign.

Code Orange - Call Your Vet at Their First Available Office Hours

  • If this seems mild or occasional and the horse seems normal otherwise.
  • If the horse seems to be moving freely, and has a normal appetite and attitude.
  • If this is the only sign you notice. The horse seems well to you otherwise.

Saliva is produced by large salivary glands (under and behind the jaw) that empty through ducts into the mouth. Normal horses produce a large quantity of saliva every hour, which they normally swallow. Saliva has very important functions. It wets feed material and begins to break it down. It also has an important buffering effect in the stomach, reducing acidity.

Drooling is an uncommon observation that can result from a variety of underlying causes including things like mouth injury or inflammation, a fungal toxin found in clover, inability to swallow, some infectious diseases, dental or oral conditions causing irritation, and as a response to contact with irritating or toxic materials. It can also be also seen in horses that are very ill from almost any life-threatening systemic (body-wide) condition. Those horses simply stop swallowing, allowing saliva to run back out of the mouth.

Sometimes drooling is seen in combination with nasal discharge. This usually indicates that a blockage is occurring in the throat or below. The best example of this is seen in horses that have “Choke”- esophageal obstruction. Drooling (along with nasal discharge) occasionally can occur when the small intestine or stomach is blocked and fluid accumulates in the stomach and finally backs up into the esophagus and then into the mouth and nasal passages.

WHAT TO DO

If you notice that your horse is drooling, that is a good starting point for additional observation. Keep in mind that a few contagious diseases cause salivation, so be sure to wear gloves.

Offer the horse some feed. Is it interested in feed, and able to chew and swallow? Look for nasal discharge and feel around under and behind the jaw for swellings.

Assess the horse’s general health using the Whole Horse Exam (WHE), paying particular attention to the rectal temperature and heart rate, and ability to chew and swallow. Assess the mouth as well as you can easily (wear gloves), looking for an obvious foreign body that you might be able to remove. At that point, you can share your findings and concerns with your vet.

WHAT YOUR VET DOES

Your vet assesses general health to rule out body wide conditions that might cause salivation. They then will carefully evaluate the mouth and throat visually and manually if necessary. They consider management, feeding and the environment as they look for a cause. Endoscopy is a commonly used diagnostic for visualizing the upper digestive tract. Other diagnostics might also be needed to rule out infectious and other conditions.

Identify or Rule-Out Possible CausesDIAGNOSES

Seed Heads or Feed Material Embedded in Gums, Lips, Mucous Membranes
Dental & Oral Conditions, Generally
Periodontal Disease
Foreign Body in Mouth
Clover Toxicity
Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome, EGUS (in Adult)
Choke, Esophageal Feed or Foreign Body Obstruction
Allergy or Hypersensitivity, Generally
Esophagitis & Other Conditions of Esophagus, Generally
Fracture of Incisive Bone of Upper Jaw or Mandibular Incisors Lower Jaw
Front Tooth or Incisor, Fractured or Broken
Vesicular Stomatitis, VS
Burn, Chemical, Toxin, Caustic Substances Ingested & Irritating Mouth, Lips, Tongue
Poisoning or Toxicity, Undiagnosed
Dental Overgrowths, Sharp Points
Tooth or Teeth Loose
Equine Viral Arteritis, EVA
Organosphosphate Toxicity
Equine Odontoclastic Tooth Resorption & Hypercementosis, EOTRH
Geriatric Dental Disease
Small Intestinal Strangulating Conditions
Strangles
Stomach Outflow Obstruction
Duodenitis-Proximal Jejunitis, DPJ
Stomach Impaction
Plant or Weed Toxicity, Generally
Ulcer, Gastro-Duodenal, Glandular Antral or Duodenal Ulcer (in Adult)
Foal or Newborn, Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome, EGUS
Geriatric Dental Disease
Acute Systemic Disease, Generally
Salivary Gland Infection
Anaphylaxis
Equine Grass Sickness
Botulism
Tooth or Teeth Absent or Missing
Rabies
Megaesophagus
Neoplasia, Tumor or Cancer, Stomach
Guttural Pouch Conditions, Generally
Cheek Tooth or Molar, Fractured or Broken
Neoplasia, Tumor or Cancer, Salivary Gland or Duct
Blister Beetle Toxicity
Pyrrolizidine Alkaloid Plant Toxicity
Neoplasia, Tumor or Cancer, Generally
Viral Infection, Non-Specific
Pyrethrin Toxicity
Poisoning by Cardiotoxic Plants, Generally
Blue Green Algae Toxicity
Heavy Metal Toxicity
White Snakeroot Toxicity
Cyanide Toxicity from Plants
Lead Poisoning
Poison Hemlock or Water Hemlock Toxicity
Johnson or Sudan Grass Toxicity
Mouth or Tongue Infection, Actinomyces, Actinobacillus
Facial Nerve Paralysis
Viral Upper Respiratory Tract Infections, Generally
Tetanus
Salivary Duct Stone
Liver Failure, Generally
Plants Causing Salivation & Mouth Irritation
Fracture of Mandible or Lower Jaw
Borna Disease
Arsenic Toxicity
Liver Disease, Acute Hepatitis
Headshaking Syndromes, Generally
Hyoid Fracture
Salivary Sialocele, Ranula
Neoplasia, Tumor or Cancer, Guttural Pouch
Neoplasia, Tumor or Cancer, Liver
Pyrethrin Toxicity
Larkspur, Monkshood Toxicity
Marijuana Toxicity

POSSIBLE TREATMENTS or TherapiesTo Lessen or Resolve the Sign

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP

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