‘Choke’ is a common emergency in horses where the oesphagus becomes obstructed, normally with feed material. It can be very distressing for both the horse and the owner to witness and so here is some information that may help if you ever find yourself dealing with a choking horse.

Signs to look out for include:

  • Nasal discharge with feed coming out of the nose
  • Stretching or straining of the neck
  • Coughing
  • Occasionally they will show mild colic signs.

If you see your horse choking you should immediately remove all feed and water before then calling the vet. Keep your horse quiet and calm, lower their head and rub the left side of the neck gently if they will let you. Do not syringe anything into the horse’s mouth.

Most horses will resolve choke themselves within 30 minutes, but occasionally they will require help from the vet. This involves passing a tube to the level of the obstruction and gently breaking it up with water and removing the feed material. Very rarely a horse will choke on a solid object such as a carrot or a stone, and in this case the horse may need to be brought to the clinic to allow us to remove it.

The main risks after a choke are dehydration and aspiration pneumonia. If the horse cannot drink for a long period and is over producing saliva then they can dehydrate, and may need supportive treatment and fluids. If feed material is aspirated into the lungs this can cause infection and pneumonia, so we do sometimes put horses on antibiotics if we think this is a real possibility.

Poor teeth can predispose horses to choke as they don’t chew their food appropriately. Less common causes include oesphageal stricture or damage. Regular dental examinations, adding water to hard feed and feeding from the ground can all help to reduce the risk.

Remember if you have any concerns we are always available on 01670 897 597.

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