Diagnosing and Treating Choke in Horses

(Dr. Chris Blevins) an esophageal obstruction, also called choke. When a horse chokes, it’s not necessarily that they get something lodged in their throat latch, but it is getting stuck food material in their throat or in their esophagus, which is the tube that attaches from their throat latch down into their stomach. How that happens with horses could be a multiple of different reasons, but what I think we need to start with, as far as talking about is, what would your horse do or show if you’re worried about a horse choking? That’s having fluid or food material come out the nose and even the mouth of the horse. They can also be very anxious, pacing around. Some of them may even act like they’re collicking and roll. I think some of those things you need to be cautious of and be able to understand, if you notice these things that you need to call your veterinarian. Choke is not necessarily a drastic emergency, so we have to fix it right then, but it is an urgency. So what can an owner do before the veterinarian gets there? You have to remember that the horse is obstructed, it can’t get anything into its stomach, so you need to take away all its food and all its water and put it in a quiet place. We want to make sure that the head is down and keep the horse as relaxed as possible until the veterinarian gets there to try to prevent them from aspirating or getting food and bacteria into the lungs from the trachea. That is a complication that sure can arise with any time a horse chokes. That wouldn’t necessarily cause any issues right then, but sure could later. Now, having your veterinarian out there is usually what’s needed to have that recovered. Some horses will recover on their own if they relax and calm down, and they can swallow it on down. Otherwise, your veterinarian, you need to get a hold of them, they come out and they can pass a tube to relieve that obstruction. Another aspect is putting them usually on antibiotics and making sure that they have proper pain control during the healing process. Cause could be due to teeth, could be due to stricture or could be that the horse was actually bolting their food. Your veterinarian can sure help you in trying to prevent those later on and keeping pelleted feed moistened down, especially those horses that really want to bolt at their feed, can kind of prevent an obstruction called choke. If you have any questions, get a hold of your veterinarian, or give us a call here at Kansas State Veterinary Health Center. I’m Dr. Chris Blevins for Horsing’ Around, and we’ll see you around.

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