Cattle don’t need their teeth floated regularly the way horses do. That doesn’t mean that they can’t develop issues involving their teeth.
We’ve all seen those skinny old cows, poor doers, there’s nothing that can be done about them. No matter how much feed you pour into them, they never put on weight.
There are lots of things that can lead to these issues, including Johne’s disease. One possible cause that is usually over looked is bad teeth.
Grazing animals wear their teeth down with constant chewing. This works nicely, as long as both opposing teeth are there to keep the wearing constant, and as long as those grinding edges are even and smooth. When a tooth falls out, leaving no surface to grind against, the remaining tooth wont continue to wear. In extreme cases it can come into contact with the gum where a tooth is lacking, causing pain and infection. This makes chewing uncomfortable at best, impossible at worst.
Even when the tooth doesn’t reach the gums there are problems with wearing and pain.
As she becomes less able to eat she will lose condition. Even as more food is given to her the inability to chew properly leaves her unable to make good use of the extra feed.
As I go about checking cows and driving through pastures I like to stop and check out any old bones I find. Looking at dead cow teeth may be an odd hobby but it has shown very interesting results. A few fresher, and stinkier, skulls have still had the lower jaw attached. I have been able to see the missing, usually upper, tooth and get a clear view of the sharp lower tooth sticking up towards the gum line. In the older skulls I have to look for subtler clues. In the case of this picture we can only see the smooth spot on the bone where the lower tooth or the pressure of food stuck in the gap ground away at the surface until the holes left by the tooth roots are completely gone. We can clearly see the holes in the areas where there were healthy teeth were attached. I consulted with my veterinarian and she agreed that she’s seen this wearing of the jaw bone often in horses with tooth issues.
That isn’t to say that I find tooth problems in every skull I find. There are lots of possible causes of death. It is found often enough that when a cow is loosing condition badly it is well worth a look in their mouth!