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What does It Mean to Float Teeth in Horses?

Mary McMahon
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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Many people who deal with equines in their lives have experienced floating teeth at some point or another. The term “floating teeth” sounds a bit strange to people who are not familiar with equine dentistry, and although it conjures up a bizarre image of teeth floating around in mid air, it is actually an important part of dental care for horses. When a horse's teeth are floated, a veterinarian or equine dentist uses a specialized dental rasp, also called a float, to file down the teeth so that they are even. Floating teeth is necessary for most domestic horses at least every couple of years, and horse owners should give their animals regular checkups to ensure that their teeth are healthy, even, and not painful.

Unlike human teeth, horse teeth grow throughout their lives. This is because in the wild, horses eat a wide variety of fodder, some of which contains abrasive substances like silicates which wear down the teeth. When a horse eats normally, grinding food between the back teeth, the abrasives wear the teeth down, keeping them even and smooth. However, when a horse eats a softer diet, like one containing a lot of alfalfa and grains, the teeth do not wear evenly, and they can form sharp, painful points. Floating teeth is necessary at this point to eliminate the sharp edges.

A horse with teeth in need of floating tends to be very mouth shy, because the sharp teeth are cutting into the horse's cheeks and causing pain. The horse may also have difficulty eating, start dropping food from its mouth, not be able to chew properly, begin losing weight, salivate a lot, and pass unchewed food through its digestive system. In extreme cases, the horse's mouth may start bleeding, indicating the need for an immediate dental appointment. Floating teeth will restore the horse's normal attitude, as well as improving its health and mental well being.

A specialized halter is used for floating teeth to pull the horse's head up and secure it. Many horses are also lightly sedated for the procedure. If the veterinarian is using a traditional rasp for floating teeth, he or she will file gently away at the teeth to smooth them down and remove rough patches. Some veterinarians prefer to use power tools for floating teeth, which must be used cautiously so that too much is not filed away. It is also important that the teeth do not become excessively smooth, as this will also cause problems with eating and digestion.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a All Things Nature researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By umbra21 — On Aug 23, 2011

We once bought a farm that came with a horse. The couple that owned it before us just lost interest and let him run wild around the place.

He was in terrible condition when we took over. He had been a racing horse and hurt his back, so it seemed like he wasn't of use to anyone.

And they had let his teeth and hooves grow wild, so they both needed to be cut back.

His hooves took forever to heal, as they needed to grow out cracks. The farrier just came back every few months and kept trimming them.

And it was fascinating to watch a farrier floating a horse's teeth.

I think he was a lot more comfortable after we were done with all his doctoring. He had a sweet personality and it was criminal how they had neglected him.

By pleonasm — On Aug 23, 2011

@julies - I'm glad it worked out for you and your horse. It's really difficult for them to eat if they don't have their teeth worn down properly and they can be pretty miserable without ever letting it on.

Floating teeth on horses seems to be a sort of hit or miss kind of thing. The vet or farrier needs to have a lot of skill to do it properly, and I'm not sure it's all that easy to diagnose either.

From what I've read it sometimes needs to be done multiple times, trying to find the perfect ratio for the teeth, before the horse is comfortable.

By julies — On Aug 22, 2011

We had a mare that was getting close to 30 years old. We had her since she was 13 and she was the best horse a family could have ever asked for.

She still seemed to be in good shape, but was not able to keep any weight on her. When the vet looked at her, he said we should try floating her teeth to see if that would help her.

I was surprised she still had teeth as old as she was getting. Floating a horses teeth is not much fun for them, but it really does help them when it comes to chewing their food.

Once she had her teeth floated, she did put some weight back on through the summer. That mare lived to be 33 years old and our whole family has a lot of good memories of her.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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