A closer look: Bad Breath (Halitosis) in Horses
A horse’s breath is usually pleasant. It generally smells like the food they eat: oats, pellets, grass, or hay. It is sweet and musky. Horses with breath that smells bad, either sour-smelling, like rotting meat or vegetation, or like urine, require prompt veterinary attention.
Typically, bad breath is caused by dental issues in horses.
In rarer cases, the cause of bad breath is further inside the body.
The severity of halitosis depends on the underlying cause. Bad breath from abscesses, infections, retained caps, or other soft tissue damage typically smell like rotten flesh. Intestinal obstructions usually make the breath smell sour, or like rotten vegetation. Kidney disease typically makes the breath smell like urine.
Testing and diagnosis
Horses with bad breath require prompt veterinary attention. Diagnostic tools include:
- Physical examination
- Oral examination
- X-rays or ultrasounds
- Nasogastric intubation
Note: nasogastric intubation should only be performed by a veterinarian. There is no safe way to intubate a horse at home.
Treatment depends on the diagnosis.
In the case of a confirmed diagnosis related to dental or oral health, dental work is necessary. Antibiotics and anti-inflammatories may be needed depending on the dental issue identified.
Treatments for internal conditions such as intestinal obstruction or kidney failure may include:
- IV fluids
- Surgical intervention
Halitosis in horses is generally unmistakable. Taking care to ensure that the smell is coming from the mouth allows for easy diagnosis.
Halitosis is most commonly associated with dental issues.