For the past week, I've been watching 17-year-old Dorado very closely as he eats his nightly grain and beet pulp ration. Not because I'm afraid he won't eat it all or will avoid the liquid supplement I add—he's, plain and simple, a pig and he loves the supplement's yucca flavor—but because he's starting to give me the first little hints that it's finally time. He needs his teeth floated.

Dorado is due to have his teeth examined and floated.

Photo: Adam Spradling

When I first brought Dorado home, he was in dire need of dental care. I knew he wasn't comfortable, but it wasn't until our veterinarian arrived that I found out what bad shape his mouth was in: He had pretty severe hooks on his molars and a few small ulcers on his tongue and cheeks. It was no wonder he went better in a hackamore than a bit at the time; his mouth had to have been very painful. It took a long time, but our veterinarian got Dorado's mouth back in order that day and I had a much happier horse at dinner time that night.

After that first major dental procedure, I've been carefully managing Dorado's mouth. I'm happy to say that now, at 17, his mouth is in better condition than it was when I purchased him at 13. But I also know that as Dorado ages further, I'll need to look him in the mouth to ensure his teeth stay as healthy as possible--one important thing I've learned during my time at The Horse is that older horses tend to develop dental problems.

In 2012 I wrote an article on senior horse nutrition based on presentation by Kathleen Crandell, PhD. She explained that while minor changes in dentition don't typically cause excessive weight loss, more serious dental problems--such as periodontal disease, missing or loose teeth, infected teeth, or abnormal wear patterns--can cause issues for older horses including weight loss, quidding, choke, bad breath, feed packing, diarrhea, decreased rate of consumption, anorexia, or feces containing excessively long fiber pieces.

Most veterinarians suggest having senior horses' teeth examined every six to 12 months to ensure the animals' dentition is still in good shape. Some won't need their teeth floated as frequently as others, but at least you know their pearly whites are in good condition. (We've got a great video on senior horse dental care on TheHorse.com--it's definitely worth a watch!)

Dorado had his teeth floated last August, and he had his last dental check up in March. He didn't need any dental work at that time, so I'm fairly confident it's time to give our vet a call.

How frequently are your senior horses' teeth examined and floated? Please share your experiences!