Some grasses may cause horses to stop eating. Many horse owners automatically think teeth problems when they have a horse that doesn’t want to eat or starts eating in a peculiar matter. However, loose or abscess teeth are just one differential diagnosis to consider. A common problem causing horses not to eat regularly is Foxtails or plant awns.
Foxtails or plant awn problems are mostly a west coast regional issue. They affect many species of animals including both companion animals and livestock. These include foxtail or bristle grasses (Setaria spp., Hordeum spp.), Cheatgrass (Bromus spp.), Sandbur (Cenchrus spp.), and several others.
These plant awns make very painful blisters and ulcers when they get imbedded in a horse’s mouth or lips. They can be found in the lips, cheeks, between teeth/gums, as well as in or under the tongue. Horses may have fowl breath similar to a horse with a tooth abscess. They also often salivate and go off feed when cases are severe.
Should a veterinarian see my horse?
In minor cases horse owners may see results with manually removing the foxtails themselves and rinsing the horse’s mouth with a garden hose. However, if the horse has a noticeable problem eating or other chronic signs such as fowl breath or salivating the horse should be seen by their veterinarian. Even in minor cases owners may not be able to visualize lesions farther back in the horse’s mouth that could be harboring infection. With sedation and a speculum your veterinarian can perform a complete oral examination and manual removal of the foxtails. Your veterinarian can also provide you with after care instructions, pain medications and antibiotics to treat infection.
How do I prevent my horse from eating foxtails?
Check your hay before feeding to ensure it does not contain these pesky weeds. Do not feed hay that contains foxtails. Keeping pastures mowed where foxtails grown can also help to reduce exposure.
By buying good quality hay and monitoring pastures, hopefully your horse will never have to experience what a pain foxtails can be.