Horse Has Bad Breath

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Question: Dear Julie,

My horse has an odor coming from his mouth. There is no evidence of tooth decay or abscess. What could be the problem??? Thanks for taking time to answer my question.

Sonia Galerneau

Answer: Sonia,

This is probably a question that your vet is better able to answer. In my experience, a bad odor from the mouth is usually caused by a dental problem, sores caused by foxtail or barley hay or bad breath emanating from his stomach. It sounds like you have already ruled out the dental problem. I have seen horses that eat either hay with foxtail grass or barley hay get festering sores in their mouth because the seed head burrow into the horse’s gums and this can give them a very rank breath.

I have also known of horses that are dealing with colic or have chronic gastritis to have a bad odor coming from their mouth. Gastritis can be caused by colic, long-standing ingestion of poor quality feed, cribbing, and infection from bots or ingestion of foreign materials such as bedding, sand, and stones. Horses in kidney failure will have an ammonia odor to their breath, but this is not likely since your horse would have other significant symptoms.

The only other thing that comes to mind is if the horse is eating his own manure; it is called copraphagy. You would have probably observed this by now. Hopefully your horse just has chronic bad breath and not medical condition.

Good luck!
Julie Goodnight, Clinician and Trainer

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