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  • What is choke?

    Posted on by Andy Horse with choke

    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.

    Food/water appearing at nostrils & mouth in a horse with choke

    What should I look out for?

    Akin to the classic ‘food stuck in throat’ sketch on the television, it can be very distressing, with your horse displaying signs ranging from:

    What causes choke?

    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.

    When should I call the vet?

    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.

    Place large objects (e.g. balls, licks etc) in feed buckets to ensure horses eat slowly to minimise the chances of your horse getting chokeHow can I minimise the chances of my horse getting choke?

    1. Avoid feeding dry feeds
    2. Feed horses prone to choke separately (there is a thought that some more nervous horses feel threatened and eat more quickly in certain situations)
    3. Place large objects (e.g. balls, licks etc) in feed buckets to ensure horses eat slowly
    4. Feed several small meals throughout the day.
    5. Ensure you get your horse’s teeth checked regularly (ideally at least yearly).
    Joined Towcester Veterinary Centre in 1991 and now a partner, Andy was instrumental in setting up the six vet team at the equine clinic at Plum Park.
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