What’s your diagnosis?❖ It’s cold out and you’re late for work.❖ You run out to the barn and throw your horse his grain before heading back in to take your shower.❖ When you come back out to turn him out for the day, you notice he didn’t ﬁnish his grain and he is standing in the back of the stall stretching his neck out and pawing.❖ What could be going on?
Choke❖ Most likely your horse is choking.❖ When a horse chokes, it is not the same as in a human.❖ The feed material is lodged in the esophagus not the airway.❖ While it is serious, choke in a horse will not result in asphyxiation.
What does a Choking horse look like?❖ Anxiety, neck extension, retching, restlessness due to esophageal pain❖ Frequent attempts to swallow or cough❖ Ptyalism, feed-tinged nasal discharge, halitosis❖ Dilation of cervical esophagus in the jugular furrow❖ Often starts shortly after horse started eating❖ Some horses just appear depressed, not distressed
Causes of Choke❖ Extruded feeds that were wetted inadequately and begin expanding as the horse salivates and swallows (Pelleted feeds, beet pulp)❖ Older horses with poor dentition and decreased esophageal peristalsis can choke on hay❖ Attempting to swallow too large of a mass (foreign objects/corn cobs/apples)❖ Exhaustion/sedation – remove feed when horse is tired or recovering from sedation❖ Elevated feeds
What can you do?❖ Remove all feed from your horse’s stall (not all horses are smart enough to stop eating once they choke).❖ Try to keep your horse’s head low to encourage drainage❖ Massage the neck from the throatlatch to the chest❖ If you horse continues to choke after 20 minutes, call your veterinarian.
What will the vet do?❖ While most horses resolve a choking incident without treatment, if they do not self-cure within 20-30 minutes the horse should be treat immediately to decrease inﬂammation and chance of esophageal ulceration and stricture. When food and saliva cannot go down the esophagus to the stomach, it can back up and accidentally go to the lungs causing aspiration pneumonia.❖ Horses often become distressed when they choke. The vet will administer a sedative to help the horse relax and lower his head.❖ A smooth muscle relaxant is also given to relax the muscles of the esophagus to allow passage of the nasogastric tube to push the mass into the stomach or lavage it back out the mouth and nose.❖ Once the obstruction is relieved, anti-inﬂammatories will be given to prevent swelling of the esophagus which could cause re-obstruction.
How can you prevent Choke?❖ Have your horses’ teeth examine annually to ensure they are able to chew feed adequately.❖ Oﬀer wet mash for older horses with poor dentition/TMJ issues. Arthritis of the TMJ causes horses to not chew thoroughly and hay may be diﬃcult❖ Allow wetted grains to fully expand prior to feeding❖ Feed hay and grain on the ground❖ Separate feeding areas so horses do not feel like they have to eat rapidly❖ Adequate hydration - most chokes occur in the winter. Older horses have sensitive teeth and do not drink as much water when it is cold.❖ Feed soft small meals for 2-3 days post resolution as may choke again from mucosal irritation