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What is Oral Foreign Body?

Horses can get things stuck in their mouths just like any other animal.  Whether it be metal or a natural material like wood or grass awns, it should be treated as soon as possible.  Symptoms may first appear as lack of appetite or listlessness and develop into swelling and anorexia. Your veterinarian will examine your equine’s mouth inside and out to find the source of his discomfort.  Once diagnosed, she will remove the object from his mouth manually or surgically.  If removed and treated properly, your horse has a good prognosis of recovery.

If you horse has something stuck in his mouth, you should contact your veterinarian immediately. Varying symptoms can indicate that your horse needs veterinary care, such as swelling in the face and lack of appetite.

Symptoms of Oral Foreign Body in Horses

Symptoms can vary but may include:

  • Lack of appetite
  • Listlessness 
  • Weight loss
  • Facial swelling
  • Intermandibular swelling
  • Retropharyngeal swelling
  • Increased heat
  • Pain upon palpation
  • Halitosis
  • Tongue paralysis
  • Dysphagia
  • Fever
  • Firm, painful swellings
  • Abscess 



There are a variety of materials that can penetrate your horse’s mouth.  Metal, plant material, and wood splinters are all frequent causes of oral foreign bodies.  Anything that penetrates the soft tissues inside the mouth can cause this issue.  Incidents typically occur by accident such as if your horse ingests a foreign object or even if you are trying to administer medications and you push in the wrong way.



Causes of Oral Foreign Body in Horses

If your horse accidentally eats or bites on something the wrong way, it can penetrate the soft membranes of his mouth.  For example, if he eats a plant containing grass awns it can lead to the symptoms like pain and fever.  Wood splinters can also be a cause of a foreign body; if your horse is a crib biter, it can lead to a piece of splintered wood being lodged into his mouth.  It can also happen if he accidentally runs into something or tries to ingest some type of material he should not. It can even happen if an insect stinger gets stuck in the soft skin of his mouth.



Diagnosis of Oral Foreign Body in Horses

Your veterinarian will begin by performing a full physical exam on your horse.  While the issue may be localized to his mouth, she will want to check him out for other symptoms he may be experiencing.  It may give her hints as to how it happened or what may have caused it.  She will also want to get a verbal history from you.  She will want to know when his symptoms started, if he has been eating anything new or chewing on any materials he shouldn’t, and any information related to his symptoms.  

Next, she will want to do a close and thorough examination of your horse’s mouth.  If he is experiencing pain or is uncooperative for this part, she may need to administer a mild sedative in order for her to perform a proper exam and to prevent your horse from stressing out or accidentally hurting himself or the veterinary staff.  She will view his mouth internally and externally to evaluate his symptoms and look for the source.  If unable to see anything obvious, she may want to take a radiograph of his mouth and surrounding area.  If the foreign body is metallic, it will show up on the radiographic image.  Another imaging option your veterinarian may employ is ultrasonography.  This is useful even if the object is not metal; it can pinpoint the location of the object.



Treatment of Oral Foreign Body in Horses

The best form of treatment for an oral foreign body is physical or surgical removal.  If the item is at the surface and can easily be palpated and removed, your veterinarian will simply pull it out from where it is stuck.

If your veterinarian uses an ultrasound during her diagnosis, it can help formulate her surgical plan for removal.  If the object is still close to the surface within your horse’s mouth, the veterinarian may be able to remove the object in that direction.  However, if the object has migrated deeper into the tissues of the mouth, she may need to make her surgical approach from the outside of his mouth.  There are many muscles within the face that have to be considered during the surgical procedure; it is a delicate one.  

In some cases, the oral foreign body can be difficult to reach surgically or located intraorally.  In these situations, an incision is often made near the swelling then the veterinarian uses instruments or her fingers to explore for the object.  This cavity is then lavaged and left to heal by second intention.  The only other treatment option is medical therapy alone.  This usually does not work well and will eventually need surgical intervention.



Recovery of Oral Foreign Body in Horses

If not addressed or treated, a foreign body in your horse’s mouth can lead to anorexia and he can slowly waste away.  However, if you find the source and remove it by whatever means the veterinarian deems fit, your equine should recover very well.  If treated properly within a quick timeframe, prognosis of recovery is good.



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