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


Foreign Body, Plant Awns Stuck in Mouth, Lips, Tongue or Gums


You probably noticed your horse salivating or having difficulty eating, which prompted you to look in the mouth. You noticed sharp plant seed heads embedded in the gums, lips or tongue.

This is a common problem that is usually caused by horses eating hay containing mature seed heads. Sharp, hardened seed heads and spines become embedded in the soft tissues of the mouth, causing excessive salivation or difficulty eating. These foreign bodies can also cause ulcers or abscesses that result in swelling and more pain.

Common plants that can cause this problem include mature Fox Tail and Squirrel Tail grasses, and mature wheat.

  • Code Orange

    Call Your Vet at Their First Available Office Hours

your role


What To Do

With good technique and light, you may be able to rinse away and pick out much of the material yourself. You can rinse the mouth out with salt water (1 tablespoon/ liter and a large syringe. If the signs do not improve or the problem seems severe, contact your vet.

What Not To Do

Do not feed your horse hay containing a significant amount of mature hard and sharp seed head, or Fox Tail or other sharp-awned plant.

Do not try to remove the material unless you are confident you can safely do so. You could be bitten severely.

Do not forget about rabies when working around your horse's mouth. Although it is rare, rabies can be transmitted from horses to humans. Rabies is a fatal disease.

your vet's role

Your vet can perform a more thorough examination of the mouth and can more completely remove any foreign material. Talk to your vet about preventing further problems, which may include changing hay or forage source.
Questions Your Vet Might Ask:
  • What kind of hay are you feeding the horse?
  • Did you attempt to look in the horse's mouth?
  • What was the result of your assessment?
  • Do you notice problems with the other horses?
  • What are the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE)?

Diagnostics Your Vet May Perform

Figuring out the cause of the problem. These are tests or procedures used by your vet to determine what’s wrong.

Very Common
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Diagnoses Your Vet May Consider

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

Very Common
Less Common
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Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP