BECKLEY — About 70 percent of horses will develop wolf teeth. While these teeth usually do not pose a health risk to the horse, they are often removed in performance horses to prevent interference with the bit and to avoid traumatizing the soft tissues around the teeth leading to soreness.
Horsemen differ in opinions on when or if these teeth should be removed, but understanding the physiology of wolf teeth can help individual horse owners make the best personal decision for their horses.
Wolf teeth generally emerge between the ages of five and 12 months. Predominantly, the teeth emerge in the upper jaw two to three centimeters in front of the first cheek teeth.
Wolf teeth can also erupt adjacent to the first cheek teeth and are present in both colts and fillies.
“The wolf teeth do not serve any real purpose for the horse, and, therefore, removing them does not pose any disruption to chewing,” said Dr. Glennon Mays, clinical assistant professor in the Large Animal Hospital at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM).
“Millions of years ago, horses were small, forest dwelling animals. They were browsers, not grazers, and the wolf teeth were more prominent because they helped horses eat twigs and brush,” Mays said. “But, now, there really isn’t any need for them in the modern horse.”
Because the wolf teeth are not necessary, and there is a possibility that they can interfere with bit placement in the mouth of performance horses, many horse trainers opt to have them removed before they can potentially cause pain for horses during training.
“The idea is to remove as many excuses as possible for unacceptable behavior in horses throughout the training process and during performance,” Mays said. “There is a common understanding that the name ‘wolf’ teeth is a connotation of ‘bad’ teeth, that it was the teeth’s reputation as bad that led to them being named wolf teeth.”