Choke – Oesophageal Obstruction

Choke – oesophageal obstruction

What is choke?

The term choke can be misleading. Choke in horses refers to an obstruction of the oesophagus, not the trachea as in humans.  This means while choking your horse will be able to breathe, despite being in distress.

What causes choke?

  • Poor dental health
  • Horses with dental abnormalities such as missing teeth, malocclusions or sharp points are unable to chew effectively. This puts them at a far higher risk of choking compared to those that have good dental health.
  • Bolting feed
  • Some horses eat too fast and do not chew properly leading to choke. This can be avoided by placing large stones in with their hard feed which they must eat around, slowing them down.
  • Dry food
  • Dry food is often harder for your horse to swallow than damp or wet food. This cause of choke is easily avoided by slightly wetting your horses feed. This is very important for sugar beet which must be properly soaked before feeding.
  • Foreign objects
  • Occasionally your horse may eat something it shouldn’t, such as a piece of wood, which could get stuck in their oesophagus

Signs of choke:

  • Distress
  • Coughing
  • Not interested in food.
  • Difficulty swallowing.
  • Head and neck extended in a downwards position.
  • Nasal discharge
  • Saliva drooling from the mouth

What to do if your horse is choking

You should remove any remaining food from your horse and call us for advice.

Your vet will likely sedate your horse and give them some anti-inflammatory medication.  This will help your horse relax and may release the blockage.

Some obstructions require your vet to pass a stomach tube through your horse’s nose. This allows them to lavage the blockage with water to remove it through the tube, this can be a time consuming process if the blockage is large.


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