A DEVON vet is urging owners to book regular dental check-ups for their horses after giving life-saving treatment to a beloved children’s pony.

Cracker, a 10-year-old Welsh Mountain pony became seriously ill with severe stomach ache and was treated by vets Alice Kay and Caoimhin Fogarty from Jonathan Wood Vets at Barnstaple Cross near Crediton.

Vet Alice Kay with Cracker.
Vet Alice Kay with Cracker. (J Wood Vets)

It’s suspected that problems with his teeth prevented Cracker from chewing his food properly, causing a dangerous blockage to build up in his digestive system.

Now the veterinary practice is encouraging other horse and pony owners to have their equine’s teeth checked by a vet or qualified equine dentist at least once a year.

Vet Caoimhin was called out to see Cracker when worried owner Louise Edwards noticed the pony wasn’t his normal self and was lying down more than usual.

Caoimhin diagnosed spasmodic colic, which is painful contractions of the intestines, and prescribed pain relief and medication to settle his stomach. 

Unfortunately, Cracker became unwell again the following day and Caoimhin’s colleague Alice found a worrying change in the pony. 

She said: “Cracker’s stomach had become very quiet on the left-hand side and I could feel that he had a pelvic flexure impaction. This means digested food material had caused a blockage in a narrow part of the large colon.

“It is very serious and some cases may need surgery, but it can be resolved with some intensive management. So, every few hours over the next two days I flushed water through Cracker’s system to soften the blockage and get his gut moving again. 

“The liquid was administered through a tube that was fed into Cracker’s nose and down into his stomach. It’s not the most pleasant of procedures but the pony was an absolute star and behaved impeccably, especially as he also needed frequent rectal examinations as well.”

After a total of 40 litres of water had been flushed through Cracker over the weekend, Alice could no longer feel the impaction and the pony was back to his normal self within a couple of hours.

An examination of Cracker’s teeth following the colic episode revealed that because he is missing two lower cheek teeth, the corresponding top teeth had become severely overgrown. 

Alice added: “Horses’ teeth continually grow but wear down to some extent due to the grinding motion of eating. However, because the two teeth above the gap in Cracker’s mouth don’t have anything to grind against, they had grown too long and were preventing him from chewing his food properly. The partly chewed food couldn’t be broken down sufficiently in his stomach, which led to it becoming stuck further along his digestive system.

“While Cracker’s owners had previously had his teeth checked, he was slightly overdue for his next check-up and the problem hadn’t been caught in time. This is why it is so important to have a horse’s teeth checked at least once a year, but more often if they have dental issues like Cracker.”

Cracker has now recovered from his ordeal and is back being ridden by Neve, 12, Bonnie, 11, and five-year-old twins Daisy and Robyn at their home near Exeter.

His owner Louise said when Cracker was ill it was a very worrying time. 

She said: “Cracker is your typical cheeky pony but he’s brilliant with the children and they absolutely adore him. To see him so poorly was awful and I’m very grateful to Alice and Caoimhin for making him well again.

“They both gave Cracker the best care possible, and Alice was amazing and worked so hard to help him recover, visiting us frequently over the weekend to flush the water through every couple of hours. He’s now back to normal and being ridden by the children and going to local shows and Pony Club events.

“We hadn’t expected his teeth to have causes so much of a problem because he’s only 10 years old and teeth issues usually happen to older horses, but we will make sure he doesn’t miss any dental appointments in future.”