If you’ve walked by your horses feeding area or water trough and noticed slimy balls of half chewed food laying on the ground, your horse may be quidding. Quidding is a response to mouth pain in which the horse loses or spits balls of semi-chewed food stuffs out of their mouth.
The most common cause of quidding is teeth that are uneven or that have sharp points. This does not allow the mouth to close properly and makes chewing extremely difficult. There is a host of other mouth issues that can lead to this problem as well, including cavities, abscesses, and unseen injuries. This problem most commonly occurs in older horses, however all ages can be affected.
Besides the fact that quidding is an indicator that there is something wrong (and probably painful) in your horse’s mouth, this is an issue for a very simple reason: if the feed is falling on the ground, it is not being ingested and used by your horse. This can result in loss of weight and body condition as the horse may only swallow a fraction of what is being fed. In fact, one of the first things you should check if your horse starts dropping weight and losing body condition is the condition of the teeth and mouth.
The good news is that quidding can be greatly improved or even cured all together with regular dental care by your veterinarian or an equine dentist. Often a process called floating the teeth can help file down sharp or uneven places on the teeth. Dental exams should happen at a minimum of once per year, even on healthy horses with no known problems. For horses who have dental issues, the check ups and/or treatments may be prescribed more often.
In addition to regular dental exams, a horse with dental issues should be fed a feed that is easy to chew and digest. Make sure the ration is nutrient-dense to make the most out of what they do take in and, if necessary, consider switching the horse with severe dental problems over to a complete feed that may be soaked to soften before feeding.
I recently visited a horse owner that wanted to know when it was time to start feeding senior feed to her horse. She currently had him on a 10% protein sweet feed mix. She said he was underweight and not sure why, as she was providing the horse about 20 pounds per day, but he was not eating it all. I explained that we often begin to watch horses for signs of being a “senior horse” around age 15-18. Some may go much later in to life before showing signs, but somewhere in this age range is when we watch for signs of decreased muscle mass, decreased quality of hair coat, and an inability to maintain weight on their “normal” diet.
With this horse, I found small clumps of chewed hay on the ground around his feeder, or “quids” as they are called. This happens due to dental deterioration or loss, which inhibits the horse’s ability to chew his hay. Upon examining the horses manure, we noticed a lot of undigested grain. I suggested that the owner have the horse’s teeth floated, as well as have blood work drawn to check for Cushing’s or other metabolic issues. Once the horse’s teeth were taken care of, and any metabolic issues ruled out, we could move toward a more suitable senior diet.
As horses grow older their ability to digest feed and absorb nutrients becomes less efficient. Senior horse feeds will generally have the following elements to make sure older horses are receiving all the nutrition they need:
Increased protein level in order to provide proper amino acids, such as lysine and methionine, for metabolic functions, muscle maintenance and hoof quality.
Elevated fat content to provide extra calories, with the benefit of Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids.
Yeast cultures & direct-fed microbials (more commonly known as prebiotics and probiotics, respectively) to support nutrient digestion.
Organic trace minerals that are more highly bioavailable than traditional trace mineral sources.
Enhanced calcium and phosphorus levels to help guard against bone demineralization.
Manufactured as a soft, high fiber pellet that is easily chewed. In cases where dental loss is extreme, the feed can even be mixed with equal parts warm water to form a mash.
Also, with senior feeds, if the horse is unable to chew any hay, the diet can be adjusted to 4 or 5 feedings of senior feed per day, to meet caloric requirements.