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Equine “Wolf Teeth” – What are they and how should they be cared for?
Approximately 70 percent of horses will develop wolf teeth.
While these teeth usually do not pose a health risk to the horse,
they are often removed in performance horses to prevent
interference with the bit and to avoid traumatizing the soft
tissues around the teeth leading to soreness. Horsemen differ in
opinions on when or if these teeth should be removed, but
understanding the physiology of wolf teeth can help individual
horse owners make the best personal decision for their horses.
Wolf teeth generally emerge between the ages of five and 12
months. Predominantly, the teeth emerge in the upper jaw two to
three centimeters in front of the first cheek teeth. Wolf teeth can
also erupt adjacent to the first cheek teeth and are present in
both colts and fillies.
"The wolf teeth do not serve any real purpose for the horse,
and, therefore, removing them does not pose any disruption to
chewing," said Dr. Glennon Mays, clinical assistant professor in
the Large Animal Hospital at the Texas A&M College of
Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM).
"Millions of years ago, horses were small, forest dwelling
animals. They were browsers, not grazers, and the wolf teeth were
more prominent because they helped horses eat twigs and brush,"
Mays said. "But, now, there really isn't any need for them in the
Because the wolf teeth are not necessary, and there is a
possibility that they can interfere with bit placement in the mouth
of performance horses, many horse trainers opt to have them removed
before they can potentially cause pain for horses during
"The idea is to remove as many excuses as possible for
unacceptable behavior in horses throughout the training process and
during performance," Mays said. "There is a common understanding
that the name 'wolf' teeth is a connotation of 'bad' teeth, that it
was the teeth's reputation as bad that led to them being named wolf
Even with this reputation as a negative, unneeded component of
the mouth, owners do not always remove the teeth, especially in
horses that do not have erupted wolf teeth or in horses that are
not used for performance purposes.
"Removing wolf teeth is a decision you should make with your
veterinarian," Mays said. "The procedure is not particularly
dangerous, but there are risks with any surgical procedure. There
is the possibility of severing or damaging the palatine artery
which can cause a great deal of blood loss. Or in horses with
large, curved wolf teeth, the curvature of the tooth increases the
possibility for complications."
"Sedation and local anesthetic should be used to make the
procedure safe and comfortable for the horse," Mays said. "Recovery
ranges from about a day to a week depending on the horse and size
of the tooth being extracted."
The actual extraction consists of cleaning and flushing the
mouth, then using an elevator to cut the gum around the tooth, and
then stretch the periodontal ligament in order to loosen the wolf
tooth. The tooth is grasped and removed with forceps. Due to the
fact that wolf teeth can be a variety of sizes and shapes, the
procedure time varies from a couple of minutes to half an hour.
Mays recommended ensuring your horse is vaccinated for tetanus
before the procedure. Adequate protection includes an initial
vaccination, with a second booster administered four to six weeks
following the initial vaccine, then another booster every two to
four years. Tetanus bacteria thrive in small, usually hidden
puncture-type wounds with little to no oxygen. Therefore,
mouth wounds are a prime environment for tetanus bacteria to
develop. Tetanus is usually fatal in horses, and mares are often
overrepresented as being especially vulnerable (this is largely due
to the fact that males are typically vaccinated for tetanus prior
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