A horse that is choking is a very distressed animal. Most chokes occur following the rapid eating of short feed. By bolting the food, not enough saliva is produced from chewing and the dry feed commonly gets stuck in the oesophagus (food-pipe).
What are the signs of choke?
Most horses that choke will retch and tense their neck muscles. Groaning and teeth grinding are also common signs. Food will often appear from the nostrils.
What should I do if I suspect my horse has choke?
The first action is to remove ALL feed and water. Chokes will very often clear themselves within 30 minutes. Once the choke has resolved the horse is immediately more comfortable. If you are happy that the choke has resolved then do not feed the horse for a further 60 minutes. After this time a very sloppy feed can be fed but NO hay should be offered. If this feed is eaten without difficulty a further sloppy feed should be fed and water made available. Normal feeding can be resumed 24 hours after the choking episode. If you are in any doubt please call the surgery to discuss.
What if the choke has not resolved after 30 minutes?
Please call the office and speak to one of the vets. We treat choke that has not resolved within 30 minutes as an emergency and will get to you as soon as possible.
What treatment is involved?
Your horse will be sedated and a stomach tube passed to assess where the blockage has occurred. The blockage is then lavaged with water passed down the stomach tube. This will wash the feed back up the oesophagus and out of the nostrils. Most chokes are resolved with out difficulty but some can take some time to resolve. Very rarely a choke cannot be resolved and a further assessment using an endoscope may be required.
Can choke be prevented?
Choke most commonly occurs through the bolting of poorly chewed feed. Regular dental examinations will allow any sharp tooth edges to be identified and removed making eating more comfortable and bolting less likely. Some horses are greedy and these animals should be fed sloppy feed of fed little and often. Horses cope with various feeds differently and some horse will bolt a certain feed but will chew another without a problem. Some feeds including sugar beet and certain pelleted feeds MUST be soaked before being fed. Carrots should be fed chopped into small pieces.