Horse Side Vet Guide ®

Equine Health Resource

Twisting or Gaping Mouth

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

Code Yellow - Contact Your Vet at Your Convenience for an Appointment

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

  • If the horse seems particularly distressed by the problem.
  • If the horse seems to be having difficulty eating, in addition to showing this sign.

Code Yellow - Contact Your Vet at Your Convenience for an Appointment

  • If this seems mild or occasional and the horse seems normal otherwise.
  • If you consider this a chronic and relatively mild problem that is not changing rapidly.

Horses experiencing discomfort of the teeth, tongue, mouth or throat may gape their mouth open or twist their jaw as they eat. In this movement, the lower jaw is moved to one side or the other, out of alignment with the upper jaw. In some cases, the tongue protrudes.

This behavior often accompanies slow or difficult eating, or dropping feed. Horses may also do this when they eat something that they do not like, or after being given a dose of oral medication. Some horses with neurologic or severe body-wide disease will also engage in this behavior. A horse that has a foreign body lodged in the mouth will also do this.

WHAT TO DO

Assess your horse’s general health using the Whole Horse Exam (WHE), paying particular attention to their attitude and appetite. Assess their mouth (wear gloves) and look for any other abnormalities. Offer the horse some hay to test appetite and the ability to pick up, chew and swallow hay.

Share your findings and concerns with your vet.

WHAT YOUR VET DOES

Your vet may observe the behavior and assess the horse’s general health before doing a careful oral and dental exam.

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP

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