Choke is defined as an obstruction in your horse’s oesophagus. This runs down the neck from the pharynx/throat just above the jugular groove, travels through the chest before entering the stomach in the abdomen. Therefore, as you can see, it may not be easy to see or feel the obstruction if it occurs further down the oesophagus than the neck.
Akin to the classic ‘food stuck in throat’ sketch on the television, it can be very distressing, with your horse displaying signs ranging from:
It is often caused following ingestion of foreign material (e.g. wood chips) or different types of feed (e.g. apples, carrots, unsoaked mix – e.g. sugarbeet). These are especially important if you have a greedy pony that hasn’t had its teeth checked in a while, is quite old or you have an exhausted competition horse after that long day’s hunting/eventing – food isn’t properly chewed, getting stuck in the oesophagus as it is too large to pass to the stomach. Rarely, it can be caused secondarily to other conditions that narrow the oesophagus (e.g. tumours or even trauma), so there may not be any obvious cause for the episode.
Choke can rapidly lead to severe complications so it is very important to be concerned, however, any cases resolve in less than 30 minutes, as the saliva acts to soften the impaction. Whilst waiting to see if the condition passes, ensure your horse is:
If things have not passed in 15 minutes (but bear in mind the obstruction may have occurred some time before you noticed it) then contact us immediately, as it may need more aggressive treatment (such as sedation, oesophageal muscle relaxers, stomach tubing to lubricate the impaction and in severe cases surgical removal). In some cases your horse may need to be admitted to the clinic for more intensive monitoring.
Even if your horse has not required a visit, ensure they are only fed wet, sloppy feeds for the next 24-48 hours. This is because there is likely to be some inflammation & narrowing of the oesophagus due to the impacted material and repeated attempts to remove it.