What you see. The starting point for addressing any equine health related issue is your observation.


Slobbering, Drooling or Salivating


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.

  • 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.
You also might be observing
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your role


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 Not To Do

Do not examine a sick horse's mouth or attempt to treat without wearing gloves. Rabies is a rare but fatal disease that can cause salivation. It can be transmitted to humans through contact with a horse's saliva.

your vet's role

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.
Questions Your Vet Might Ask:
  • Does the horse's appetite and attitude seem normal?
  • Does the horse seem to be able to eat and swallow?
  • What is the horse's age, sex, breed and history?
  • When did you first notice this?
  • Does the horse have a history of dental problems?
  • Has the hay changed recently?
  • Has the horse received any medications or new feeds or supplements?
  • Is the horse drinking water?
  • Is the horse kept on pasture?
  • What are the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE)?

Diagnoses Your Vet May Consider

The cause of the problem. These are conditions or ailments that are the cause of the observations you make.

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Treatments Your Vet May Recommend

A way to resolve the condition or diagnosis. Resolving the underlying cause or treating the signs of disease (symptomatic treatment)

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Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP