The Stables

Choke Is No Joke In Horses

Having dealt with choke on several occasions and a horse on my yard having a severe bout recently, spotting the signs of this condition is vital to all horse owners. Choke is a relatively common but unpleasant and distressing condition to both horse and owner. So here are the signs you need to look out for and what to do if you are faced with a horse suffering a choke episode:

What Is Choke?

Choke is caused when the horse or pony swallows too much feed that is not thoroughly chewed or moistened with saliva. While most feeds are palatable and easy to digest, some need soaking and this can cause problems in clearly swallowing if the food is not soaked enough. Some horses can have problems swallowing harder food stuffs such as carrots, apples and often unchewed hay can occasionally lead to a bout of choke. If any food that is not swallowed with ease and is too dry, it can then block the oesophagus.

What Are The Signs Of Choke In A Horse?

First signs of a horse with choke, he will suddenly stop and refuse to eat. They may appear anxious and worried and most horses become quite quiet. The horse may extend his neck or stand with their head down and spread their legs wider than normal. You may also hear gurgling noises in their windpipe. Most start to repeatedly cough, snort and make gagging noises. If the condition has not been dealt with within the first few minutes, then saliva may begin to drip from the horse’s mouth and nostrils. This can appear brown and frothy and sometimes contain part of the foodstuff that has caused the obstruction.

Is Choke Serious?

Most choke episodes are mild and can be dealt with by an experienced horse owner. A horse with choke very rarely dies of the episode but in an extreme bout saliva is lost, with dehydration getting a grip making a very poorly horse. Saliva can also back up behind the obstruction and push it into the trachea or windpipe. Mostly excess saliva drains harmlessly from the nostrils but sometimes food particles may be drawn into their lungs and pneumonia is a common result.

What Treatment Is Needed To Help An Episode Of Choke?

As soon as you have recognised the symptoms then the horse should not be allowed to eat or drink and kept as calm as possible. In some cases choke can clear itself, but you can help the horse clear the obstruction. If the horse allows, then stroke down the underside of the neck and feel for the obstruction. Gently massage the lump which will hopefully help it break down and clear from the oesophagus. If the horse does not respond to this treatment and is becoming too distressed, then always call for veterinary assistance. They may prescribe a relaxant or sedative to ease contractions of the oesophagus and settle the horse. In most cases they will then flush the obstruction away using a nasogastric tube. Most horses recover quite quickly from choke but some may be a little quiet for a day or so. It is vital to moisten all foods well and avoid giving any hard food to them for a while.

How To Prevent Choke

Most horses that have choke sadly are prone to more episodes. These horses diet must be carefully maintained with their hard feed soaked thoroughly and care given in hard foods that can be problematic to swallow or digest. If you are noticing that your horse is not chewing their food correctly, then arrange for them to have a dental check to rule out problems with their teeth. Horses with troublesome teeth also tend to not produce enough saliva as they chew less which again adds to the chances of choke happening again. If sugar beet is used in their diet, soak this for 24 hours, even the quick soaking variety just to eliminate any chances of causing a choke episode. Soaking hay is also another preventive measure is keeping choke at bay.

Written by Samantha Hobden

Image Credit: Pixabay