Flehmen: The Horse with the Upturned Lip

Last Updated on February 21, 2022 by Allison Price

Flehmen refers to the horse’s behavior of extending its neck and raising its head while inhaling. It also displays its front teeth by rolling its upper lip back, which is called flahmen. This behavior is known as flehming, or flehmening.

Why does horses show the flehmen reaction?

Sharon Crowell Davis, a Compendium Equine author, explains how horses exhibit the flehmen reaction to facilitate the transfer of inhaled smell molecules (pheromones or other substances) into their vomeronasal organ. This is a specialized chemical sensory structure found in many mammal species.

What’s the purpose of the vomeronasal or stomach organ?

Jacobson’s organ was once known. The VNO is now found in different places and forms in various animals. It is generally connected to the nose, mouth, or both. Certain scents can have an impact on the VNO. Signals are sent via the vomeronasal nervous to the centers of the brain’s accessory smelly bulbs. Different physiologic or behavioral reactions can be triggered depending on the scent.

The Horse with the Upturned Lip

Are all horses like this?

Flehmen responses are most common in stallions after they have sniffed a mare’s urine, or when they are present with a mare in estrus. Visual cues could be crucial in the stallion’s response. Stallions with blocked vision showed lower flehmen frequency than those that could see mares urinating. Crowell-Davis states, “It seems that flehmen facilitates the chemosensory priming stallions for reproduction behavior, rather than being an instant component of sexual behaviour.”

What do you think about mares and horses?

The first few hours after giving birth, mares often show the highest levels of flehmen.

The reaction is often triggered by the smell of the newborn foal or the amniotic fluids that were associated with its birth. Although Geldings are less likely to exhibit the behavior than mature horses, any horse can be triggered by a new scent like a dietary supplement or feed ingredient. Flehmen may also be triggered by odors such as smoke and fresh paint. Fleeing from urine, feces or other horses’ waste can cause an upturned lip. Horses may also react to the smell of their own waste.

Do foals exhibit flehmen?

Both sexes have foals that show the flehmen response. Young colts flyhmen five times more than fillies, while fillies flyhmen more often than mature mares. Crowell-Davis states, “Evidence suggests that colts may need to be exposed to urine to ensure normal sexual and physical maturation.” It is crucial, especially for colts who may be raised as stallions, that colts are exposed to urine in their early years of development. This is particularly important for colts with orphans.

Are flehmen found in other mammals?

Flehmen can be found in dogs, cats and pigs as well as cattle, buffalos, lions tigers, lions giraffes goats and llamas. Flehmen can be seen in dogs after they lick a surface or object, rather than inhaling an odor.

What do you think about humans?

If a person is exposed in any way to unpleasant smells or sights, they will tend to roll their upper lip back in disgust. The linguistic roots of the word mean that the action isn’t usually associated with inhalation. However, this may not be the same origin as the flehmen reaction in horses. The VNO can be found in embryos of human beings. Although identifiable vestiges can be found in some adults’ eyes, the VNO does not seem to have any significant function in mature human beings.

Are flehmen ever cause for concern?

Flehmen are actions similar to those seen in colic. These include a raised head, curled lips, curled neck, and extended neck. Some horses may show similar behaviors when they are trying to soothe irritation in the throat, eat or catch food or objects in their mouths or teeth. They might also be feeling stressed or anxious after a stressful workday. It’s difficult to know why a horse behaves in a certain way. If a horse begins to exhibit unusual behavior, its owners should be cautious. A veterinarian should examine the horse to determine if it is in good health.

Allison Price
Allison Price

I’m Allison, born and raised in San Diego California, the earliest memory I have with horses was at my grandfather’s farm. I used to sit at the stable as a kid and hang out with my Papa while he was training the horses. When I was invited to watch a horse riding competition, I got so fascinated with riding!