Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Rider's Wednesday -- Dental Doctoring

Manny, my elderly Quarter Horse, had a rough week last week. On Tuesday, the chiropractor adjusted him (his hips were both "out," causing him to use one hind leg substantially more than the other one -- not good for overall balance, muscle tone or soundness).

The larger concern, however, was his teeth. For a few weeks now, I've been increasingly concerned about him. He's not been drinking as much as I think he should. And he's been having difficulty eating. His pelleted complete feed would eventually disappear, but it would take a while. The hay I gave him to munch on would just end up in these little wads or "hay cuds." Clearly, something was wrong with his mouth, and it didn't bode well.

I took Manny to Whistler Farm , where Dr. Martin Langhoffer, DVM, who specializes in equine dentistry, came and checked him out. (My friend Denise Hettig, who owns Whistler Farm, boards several geriatric horses and other horses with special needs that require Dr. Langhoffer's regular attention. She was kind enough to let me get in on the farm call.)

It turns out that Manny's teeth needed some work. He had foul breath due to some fairly advanced periodontal disease. Bleah. In the past year or so, he's lost three of his molars, which have caused his remaining teeth to wear unevenly, resulting in sharp points that were causing some ulceration in his mouth. But the biggest problem was caused by two loose molars. Every time he'd bite down when trying to eat something, they would shift and grind into the bone of his jaw. No wonder he wasn't enthusiastic about feeding time.

The two loose molars had to come out. Of course, this left a sizeable hole in his jaw. Dr. Langhoffer feels that the sockets should fill in naturally, given time, if they are kept clean and clear. And so, for the next two weeks, Manny is on antibiotics (12 SMZ's twice daily). I also have to flush his mouth out daily, clearing out the holes in his jaw.

Which brings me to today's topic. If you ever have to administer pills orally to a horse, here's a tip that works wonders:

First, take a sizeable syringe with a tight-fitting, rubber seal on the plunger (this is a 2 oz / 60 cc model). Put the correct dose of pills in it -- no need to crush them up.

Then, insert the tip of the syringe into some apple juice. Pull back the plunger and fill the vial.

Let the juice dissolve the pills for a few minutes and you have a medicine that's no more trouble to administer than a tube of wormer.

As for the whole "flushing the mouth out" treatment, thanks to Dr. Langhoffer's ingenuity, that's not so difficult, either. All you need is a pump sprayer -- like the kind you use to rid your garden of pests. Use a clean one, of course. They're not terribly expensive (you can get one for under $20).

Put half a gallon or so of warm water in the container. Add the medication, or add 1/4 cup of Listerine to it. Then pump it to build up pressure.

To disperse the flushing solution, just slide the nozzle inside the horse's cheek and depress the trigger. You don't want the horse to drink the stuff, so you're not aiming for the back of his throat. If the horse will take a bit, he generally doesn't react too badly to the whole procedure. This makes it fairly easy to flush out the icky stuff, or clean an ulceration in the horse's mouth.

Here's hoping you never need to use any of this information. But if you do have a horse that needs either oral meds or a clean mouth -- these little suggestions may make your job easier.