The wolf teeth are a matter of great confusion among horse owners. The confusion revolves around whether to remove wolf teeth from your horse’s mouth or not. If yes, then exactly what threat do they pose that calls for complete removal of them? If not, then aren’t they going to make trouble in the future? They certainly sound dangerous, don’t they?
Let’s clear the confusion for you once and for all. let us clear out what is the deal with wolf teeth and what all the fuss is about. Let’s start with what actually wolf teeth are, how much ‘wolfish’ they are, if at all, and whether or not you should bother to remove them.
What are Wolf Teeth in Horses? Should I Remove My Horse’s Wolf Teeth?
Wolf teeth are small teeth that erupt in front of premolars in your horse’s mouth. They are present in approximately 70% of horses, regardless of gender. Wolf teeth erupt between the age of 6 to 18 months, then their growth is halted for the rest of the life of a horse as it is an herbivorous animal, making wolf teeth purposeless. Hence the question arises “Should I Remove My Horse’s Wolf Teeth?”
Wolf teeth of horses are often confused with canines, although the two are different. “Canines erupt from the gum between 4.5-5.5 years of age, so much later than wolf teeth. They are also much larger than wolf teeth, and very challenging to remove. They are more common in males than females, and can also be blind.” (Bosch, 2020).
Wolf teeth can be situated either on the upper or lower jaw, but are mostly found on the upper jaw. Sometimes, wolf teeth do not erupt out of the gum and remain in, thus called blind wolf teeth.
Should I Remove My Horse’s Wolf Teeth? Is There a Purpose of Wolf Teeth?
While wolf teeth are functionless for horses today, they were not so millenniums ago. The purpose of wolf teeth dates back to the ancient horse ancestors, who were much smaller than the modern horse and had a different diet as well. Original horses dwelled in the wild and were not domesticized, they used to eat twigs, bushes, and branches.
Ancient horses had seven premolars and molars, while the modern horse has six. The cheek teeth also used to be smaller back then, suitable for the diet they used to survive on. As horses went through an evolution, they grew bigger and turned into grazers.
When they started grazing grass, 6 cheek teeth became sufficient to perform the chewing function. The other teeth of horses also grew bigger to facilitate chewing and grinding functions. Thus, one premolar, the first one, which we now called wolf teeth, became functionless. They eventually turned vestigial, but continued to grow, until today. With no function to perform, wolf teeth became smaller or ceased to grow at all.
Should I Remove My Horse’s Wolf Teeth? Do Wolf Teeth Pose a Problem?
From the term ‘wolf’, it seems like these teeth are trouble makers for horses, this is most probably the reason they were named as such. “I was once told that the word “wolf” means “bad” in one languages derivatives. And so the reputation amongst horsemen of these teeth being “bad” led to them gaining the name “wolf” teeth.” (Liyou, 2005)
Although simply put, wolf teeth are not as ‘wolfish’ as they might sound. They do not necessarily pose a problem with exception of a few cases.
What’s wrong with wolf teeth is that they are positioned in the wrong place, the area that can come into contact with the bit, if the horse is wearing one. If the pressure from the bit applies to wolf teeth, there can be pain or uneasiness. The tongue and cheeks can also apply pressure on the wolf teeth, causing sensitivity or pain.
However, the chances for that are less as wolf teeth are mostly situated in the upper jaw and the bit usually does not reach up there. It’s when the reins are drawn backward and the head is thrown up that the bit comes into contact with wolf teeth, causing discomfort.
If there are blind wolf teeth, those that are inside the gum, the tissue over them is still sensitive, causing pain whenever touched by the bit. Though, if wolf teeth do not come into contact with the bit, the horse will not feel any pain or discomfort.
In case of pain, your horse might exhibit certain behavior including tossing or tilting of the head, pulling hard, rolling tongue over the bit, or avoiding taking lead. In some cases, wolf teeth might be too big or might have been displaced, putting them in the way of the bit. That way, they can restrict the seating bit into the mouth.
Should You Remove Your Horse’s Wolf Teeth?
Whether you should remove your horse’s wolf teeth or not is circumstantial, depending on several factors. The opinions vary but there are certainly some conditions when it becomes important to remove the wolf teeth of your horse.
Those factors include the size and placement of the tooth, and whether or not it can come into contact with soft tissue in the mouth. Then there is the type of workload of your horse, whether it’s a rider or a broodmare. The age of the horse also counts as to how long has it come along without the wolf teeth making any trouble.
Then, you need to examine how your horse behaves after you place a bit in its mouth. Considering these factors, you need to decide if your horse can do rather better with no wolf teeth to meddle around. In most cases, it’s considered better to remove wolf teeth in riding horses or those who have to wear a bit.
The purpose behind removing wolf teeth in training horses is to easily access the first cheek teeth to adjust and seat the bit comfortably. This eliminates the worrisome prospect of the bit making contact with the wolf teeth and resulting in pain or discomfort for the horse.
However, if your horse is not likely to wear a bit ever in its life, like in the case of broodmares and pasture ornaments, there’s no harm in leaving the wolf teeth alone. Because of these very reasons, horses dwelling in the wild don’t normally experience any problems from their wolf teeth.
Also, those well-experienced and well-performing horses who have spent about a decade of their life training and racing, and are also great and mannerly performers, do not need their wolf teeth removed. That is, when the wolf teeth have not troubled at all for that long, not even with double bridle, they are highly unlikely to do so later on.
You might notice a significant change in your horse’s behavior while bitted after you have removed its wolf teeth. Removing the tooth can turn them into much better performers.
Liyou says, “The most dramatic case I have witnessed was a dressage horse which had a blind wolf tooth, and for the first 10 years of its life, it had not worried the horse. But when the horse went into a double bridle, the bit was now pushing on the gums overlying the tooth and caused the horse pain. This resulted in the horse actually striking at its mouth as the rider was pushing the horse up “onto the bit”.
With extraction of the wolf tooth, the horse quickly resumed its normal good behavior.”
Extraction of Wolf Teeth
If you have decided it’s better for your horse to have no wolf teeth, then it better be when it’s still young. Veterinarians recommend removing wolf teeth of horses at a young age. The ideal age is between 6 to 12 months. It’s wiser to remove the tooth before it’s time to place the bit into the horse’s mouth.
The removal will be much easier at a younger age than it will be as your horse ages. The reason is that at a young age the tooth, which has just grown out, has not yet fused to the jaw bone surrounding it. The extraction of the wolf teeth should be carried out by an expert dental veterinarian.
The extraction procedure takes around 20 minutes, depending on the shape and size of the wolf teeth. The process is simple and done using a local anesthetic, sedation, or painkiller. The recovery period is normally a week-long during which a horse should not wear a bit but continue other tasks.
The Right Extraction Method
There are multiple methods to remove wolf teeth, not that all of them are correct, some of them you need to avoid, for your horse’s sake. Some operators use a hammer and screwdriver to smack out the tooth, which, precisely as it sounds, is extremely painful for a horse.
Some people just knock the tooth out which leaves the root behind, exposed, and bulging out of the gum. This can cause severe infection and tooth abscess. According to Liyou, “As we learn about how horses vividly remember painful events for such a long time, and base their trust values on events such as these, good horsemen and women are realizing the value in performing painful procedures on horses under sedation and/or local anesthetic. Sometimes, general anesthetic is indicated. Thus, no bad memories are formed and trust levels can remain high.”
Thus, the tooth extraction needs to be painless for the horse. The right method is to sedate the horse first. Then the gum is cut via a clean elevator and the ligament is stretched and loosened around the tooth. Finally, the tooth is removed with forceps. The mouth of the horse is thoroughly cleaned for a safe and hygienic extraction procedure.
The best-case scenario is the extraction of the tooth completely, but sometimes it does not come out entirely. The tooth might break leaving some fragments behind. This cannot pose a serious problem unless the remains of the tooth are small and unexposed, inside the gum. Otherwise, no remains should be left exposed. Throughout the procedure, the vet should remain patient and gentle.
Should I Remove My Horse’s Wolf Teeth? The risk of Tetanus
Before going for the tooth extraction, you need to make sure that your horse is protected from tetanus. Tetanus is a fatal disease caused by the bacteria, Clostridium Tetani. The puncture wounds caused during tooth extraction provide a favorable environment for the tetanus bacteria. This makes horses with extracted teeth prone to this deadly disease.
The protective measure involves proper vaccination against the disease, which is fortunately inexpensive. The vaccination is given in courses, the initial course involves two monthly shots and then a yearly booster. After that, vaccination is required after every five years. In case the horse is not vaccinated, the vets give a tetanus antitoxin injection at the time of the extraction procedure.
Should I Remove My Horse’s Wolf Teeth? There you go, everything you need to know about the wolf teeth of your horse. We have covered all the important things, from the original purpose of wolf teeth to the method of removal. This is to keep you informed about the technicalities of the process so you can know whether your horse is being treated the right way or not. And most of all, now you finally have the answer to whether you should remove your horse’s wolf teeth or not!
Dr Liyou, O. (2005, July-August ). TIPS & INFO, Wolf Teeth in Horses. Australian Stock Horse Journal. Retrieved from EVDS, Equine Veterinary Dental Services Pty Ltd.: https://evds.net.au/tips-and-info/wolf-teeth/
Dr. Bosch, M. (2020, September 23). What’s the Deal with Wolf Teeth? Retrieved from Advanced Equine Dentistry Inc.: https://advancedequinedentist.com/2020/09/23/whats-the-deal-with-wolf-teeth/