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What are Wolf Teeth?

Mary McMahon
By
Updated May 17, 2024
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Wolf teeth are vestigial premolars found in many equids such as horses, donkeys, and zebras. In domestic equids like horses, the wolf teeth are often removed to prevent oral pain and other dental problems, although in some cases they can be left in; veterinarians usually decide what to do with the wolf teeth on a case by case basis. Routine dental care for horses is especially important because dental problems can cause the horse to fight the bit or act up. As any humans who have experienced dental pain know, it is hard to focus on tasks when one's teeth are causing pain.

Equids have two types of teeth: incisors and molars. The incisors are in the front of the mouth, and they are separated from the molars by a gap known as the interdental space. When wolf teeth do erupt, which happens in around 50% of equids, they usually appear in the interdental space, and they tend to be close to the molars. Most commonly, wolf teeth appear in the upper jaw, although they have been observed in the lower jaw as well; typically one wolf tooth erupts on each side of the mouth.

These teeth look like stubby little pegs, sometimes with a sharper point. Depending on the placement of a wolf tooth, it can cause discomfort to the horse. Wolf teeth can crowd other teeth, for example, or they may interfere with the bit. If the wolf teeth are right next to the molars, the bit could slip between the wolf teeth and the molars and pinch the gums, causing extreme pain.

Usually wolf teeth emerge within the first 18 months of age, at which point a veterinarian will decide what to do about them. Sometimes a horse has blind wolf teeth, teeth which lie flat against the gum instead of erupting, which can make them hard to detect. If the position of the wolf teeth doesn't seem problematic, the vet may simply leave them in place. However, if the wolf teeth look like they are in an awkward place, the vet will recommend extraction. Some equine dentists prefer to extract all wolf teeth as soon as they emerge, under the assumption that they can't become a problem if they are not present.

A well trained horse will hopefully have been well handled before a veterinarian needs to remove the wolf teeth, and the horse may have already had its teeth floated, in which case it will be familiar with the idea of dental work. Floating is a procedure in which the sharp edges of the teeth are filed down to the make the horse more comfortable. If a horse is mouth-shy or the vet wants to make the process easier, mild sedation may be used to keep the horse calm for the 10 minute procedure.

Frequently Asked Questions

What exactly are wolf teeth in horses?

Wolf teeth are small, vestigial premolars found in some horses, positioned just in front of the first large cheek teeth, known as molars. They typically emerge in horses between six and 18 months of age. Not all horses have them, but when present, they can sometimes cause discomfort when a bit contacts them, leading to potential behavioral issues during riding.

How common are wolf teeth in horses?

Wolf teeth are quite common in horses, with varying reports suggesting that up to 70% of horses may develop them. However, they are more frequently found in male horses than in females. The occurrence of wolf teeth can be influenced by genetics, so some breeds may be more predisposed to having them than others.

Can wolf teeth cause problems for horses?

Yes, wolf teeth can cause problems, particularly if they are sharp, poorly positioned, or if the horse is sensitive. They can interfere with the bit, causing discomfort or pain when the horse is being ridden, which may lead to resistance or behavioral issues. In such cases, a veterinarian or equine dentist may recommend removal.

Should wolf teeth always be removed from horses?

Not necessarily. The decision to remove wolf teeth should be made on a case-by-case basis. If the teeth are not causing any issues for the horse, they may be left in place. However, if they are leading to discomfort or training difficulties, a veterinarian may advise extraction to ensure the well-being and performance of the horse.

What is the process for removing wolf teeth in horses?

Removing wolf teeth is a relatively straightforward veterinary procedure, typically performed under sedation with local anesthesia. The vet will use specialized tools to extract the tooth, ensuring minimal discomfort for the horse. Aftercare involves monitoring the extraction site for signs of infection and allowing time for the gum to heal properly.

Are there any risks associated with the removal of wolf teeth?

As with any surgical procedure, there are some risks associated with the removal of wolf teeth, including bleeding, infection, or reactions to sedation. However, these complications are relatively rare, and the procedure is generally considered safe and routine when performed by an experienced veterinarian. Proper aftercare is essential to minimize any potential risks.

WiseGEEK is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon64644 — On Feb 08, 2010

Canine teeth and wolf teeth are not the same thing in a horse. the canine tooth is longer and usually only found in male horses, it erupts later than the wolf teeth, which can be found in female and male horses, and are usually little tiny teeth with lots of nerves, that can cause pain upon bit contact.

I read somewhere that they are called wolf teeth because of an origin in languages where the term "wolf" simply means bad.

By anon54254 — On Nov 28, 2009

They're not really. They're really called canine teeth.

By dinoh — On Apr 18, 2009

Why are wolf teeth called 'wolf teeth'?

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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