Change the Washington State Livestock Dentistry Laws on Floating by Non-Veteranarians.

Change the Washington State Livestock Dentistry Laws on Floating by Non-Veteranarians.

May 2, 2022
Signatures: 288Next Goal: 500
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Why this petition matters

Started by Ceanna Johnston

This is a Petition to change the Washington State Livestock Dentistry Laws to deem Equine Filing or "floating" of teeth by non-motorized hand tools without medication to be accepted livestock management practices and not the practice of veterinary medicine.

Horse teeth are unlike almost any other animal, including dogs, cats and humans. The teeth of horses continuously erupt through the gums throughout the horse's life. This is where the expression "long in the tooth" comes from. A horse chews on average 25,000 times a day, and with each chewing motion, the teeth grind against each other. An edge of unworn tooth enamel forms that, with the stropping of the tongue (movement of the tongue with lubrication of saliva), develops a razor's edge. This causes pain to the soft tissues of the horse's mouth. Each horse will deal with this pain differently, but generally, the pain will cause the movement of the tongue and jaw to become altered, which may affect the health and longevity of the teeth as the horse ages. In addition, an unwanted bit response (shaking the head, rearing, stopping of motion, etc.) and cheek ulcers can develop in the mouth. 

The teeth need the sharp edges filed smooth regularly to keep the horse pain-free. This is a minimum of an annual float (filing the sharp edges to become smooth), and in competitive horses, this is usually every six months. This should not have to be the veterinarian's job because this is a preventive action no different from filing off excess hoof growth, clipping off excess hair, removing dirt, or administering parasite medication and vaccines. It does not involve the diagnosing or the treatment of a disease that a licensed veterinarian should perform. Nor would this law prevent a veterinarian from performing a complete dental exam regularly. Horse owners should be able to choose to have a non-veterinarian perform this type of routine preventive dentistry. Horses will be healthier and pain-free in the mouth if we change this Washington State law to allow horse owners to have non-veterinarians manually float their horse's teeth without medication regularly.                                                                                  

Currently, in Washington State, according to the Revised Code of Washington (RCW) 18.92.010, Equine Dentistry is considered within the scope of Veterinary Medicine. Non-veterinarians who float horse teeth can be punished to the full extent of the law. The law was written this way to provide accountability for floating teeth. The addressed fear is that the lack of integrity and accountability of non-veterinarians will cause damage to a horse's mouth or defraud the horse owner. However, many non-veterinarians throughout the United States practice floating teeth with the highest degree of integrity and do a fantastic job. The current law does not prohibit horses from getting hurt; the truth is just the opposite. This law damages horses because there are not enough veterinarians to perform regularly scheduled floats and it also inadvertently restricts the method of floating that a horse can get. Let me explain.

There are approximately 55,000 horses in Washington State, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). In contrast, approximately 130 veterinarians work exclusively with horses and of those, about 43 perform equine dentistry as part of their practice, according to the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP). Based on the math, in WA, there are 1,279 horses per veterinarian who perform equine dentistry. Whether the floating is done once or twice a year, this is between 1,279 and 2,558 visits per veterinarian per year, which removes any time for these veterinarians to perform any other tasks, including emergencies. With roughly 25 to 50 routine dental visits per week, this becomes a full-time job and there are less than five veterinarians in the state performing dentistry full time. Also, there are only 1.4% of veterinary school graduates that go into horses and 50% of those quit the equine practice within 5 years, according to the AAEP. The result is that there is a gap between what is needed for routine care of horses and what is available if the law remains that only veterinarians can perform the dental float. This means that horses are not getting the dental care they need because the horse owner is limited to a veterinarian who doesn't even have time to get their horse on their schedule.  But there is more.

Floating horses has traditionally been done using the hand-powered movement of files against the sharp tooth enamel in non-medicated horses. Most veterinarians in WA only use motorized equipment requiring that most horses be medicated with sedatives, a metal speculum placed in the mouth, the head suspended from the roof or supported with a stand and a light used to inspect the mouth visually. During a manual float, most horses do not have to be medicated with sedatives and the routine removal of sharp edges can be felt with the fingers. This is not an argument about which floating method is better but rather an argument that horse owners should be able to choose which method of floating their horse receives. Allowing non-veterinarians to perform the routine floating of horses will give horse owners a choice between methods and practitioners. This choice ensures a free economy and the horse getting the needed preventive care to prevent oral pain. With the law the way it is now, horse owners are limited to only a few veterinarians in WA performing dentistry with power equipment requiring medication and restrictive constraints, which is an unwanted event for many. For some horses, constraints with sedation become dangerous. Some horse owners have not had a good experience with the result of floating using medications and constraints. They do not call the veterinarian back to work on their horse’s teeth this way until something is desperately wrong, removing the aspect of preventive dental care. Pair these factors with a horse owner being limited to the veterinarians in their geographic area. Tell me this law, as it is now, that only veterinarians can float teeth, is better for the horse.

Veterinarians should be called in when a horse has passed its pain threshold and will not allow anyone in its mouth without medication. Veterinarians should be engaged to perform an oral exam during their annual visit or if the horse needs corrective dentistry, which should be the purview of veterinarians. Non-veterinarians should be able to perform preventive dentistry using a manual float (hand-powered float) method without medication as part of general animal husbandry. When a horse has not reached its pain threshold, it will allow a dentist in its mouth with non-motorized hand tools and without medication. Proof of this exists today and has a long history of success. There are many other equine professions where horse owners can hire horse professionals to make adjustments and sometimes even make diagnoses without the professional being a veterinarian. Preventive dentistry should be no different. 

Please sign this petition today for happier, healthier horses and for horse owners to be able to choose who preventively works in their horse's mouth.

Helpful Links:

USDA Horses in Washington,_Chapter_2_County_Level/Washington/st53_2_0018_0018.pdf

AAEP Equine Dentists in Washington

Equine Vets in the United States

New York Case Allowing Non-Veterinarian Floaters

AVMA Laws in Every State

Oklahoma Laws allowing Non-Veterinarian Floaters



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Signatures: 288Next Goal: 500
Support now