Annual Dental Exams Help Keep Horses On Their Best Behavior

Identify Important Behavioral Signs With The Zoetis Equine Dental Wellness Survey

By Jeff Hall, DVM, senior equine technical services veterinarian, Zoetis 

Could dental pain be the culprit for your horse’s behavioral problems? A recent study published in the Journal of Equine Veterinary Science established a link between common equine behavior problems and abscessed cheek teeth. Periapical infections or abscessed cheek teeth are common in horses1 and will usually induce pain that is displayed in your horse’s behavior. According to the research, half of the cases of periapical infections were diagnosed during routine dental examinations, indicating that horse owners were unaware of the association between undesirable behavioral patterns of their horses and dental pain.1

February is Equine Dental Health Awareness Month, which provides a great opportunity to schedule dental examinations to ensure your horse’s health, wellness and behavior are all in check. 

Behavioral Problems Linked to Tooth Pain 
Common behavioral signs associated with cheek teeth abscesses fall into three main categories. Some signs include:

Eating and drinking

o Eating slowly or taking frequent pauses while eating hay

o Turning his head while eating or dropping hay or grain from his mouth

o Dipping hay in water or avoiding drinking cold water


o Evading the bit

o Headshaking, lolling tongue or opening his mouth when ridden and/or driven with a bit

o Rein contact worse on one side of the mouth

o Resistance to bridling


o Withdrawn, intense stare, aggressive behavior or self-harm to his head

o Avoiding social interaction with other horses and people

o Bad-smelling breath

o Poor performance, such as a decline in athletic ability 

Take the Zoetis Equine Dental Wellness Survey
To help you identify behavioral signs associated with dental abnormalities in your horse, Zoetis created an equine dental wellness survey. This short survey will help you recognize many of the eating, drinking, bit-related and general behavioral signs that your horse may be displaying due to a tooth abscess.

Zoetis is committed to educating horse owners about the importance of annual dental examinations and care by an equine veterinarian. Behavioral signs caused by dental abnormalities are crucial to identify. Recognizing these potential behavioral changes can help with earlier diagnosis, treatment and improved health and wellness for your horse.  

If your horse is expressing any of these behavioral signs, work with your equine veterinarian to conduct an oral and dental examination. Annual oral and dental examinations is a recommended baseline of care of your horse.2 Depending on your horse’s age, level of performance and overall condition of the teeth, additional examinations throughout the year may be needed.

>> Take Survey

About Zoetis 
Zoetis is the leading animal health company, dedicated to supporting its customers and their businesses. Building on more than 65 years of experience in animal health, Zoetis discovers, develops, manufactures and commercializes medicines, vaccines and diagnostic products, which are complemented by biodevices, genetic tests and a range of services. Zoetis serves veterinarians, livestock producers and people who raise and care for farm and companion animals with sales of its products in more than 100 countries. In 2018, the company generated annual revenue of $5.8 billion with approximately 10,000 employees. For more information, visit

For more information, contact: 
Jessica Normand 

Theresa Fitzgerald   
Bader Rutter                             

1 Pehkonen J, Karma L, Raekallio M. Behavioral Signs Associated With Equine Periapical Infection in Cheek Teeth. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science. 2019;77:144-150. 
2 Scrutchfield WL. Dental Examination. Accessed January 13, 2020.



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