Causes, Symptoms and Treatment of Choke in Horses
WHAT IS CHOKE?
Choke is the common name for an obstruction of the oesophagus
of a horse.
A horse or pony with choke will be in an acutely distressed state, coughing,
spluttering and struggling to breathe and swallow properly.
One of the key features of equine choke is the appearance of food materials
at the horse's nostrils. This is beacause the arrangement of the palate
prevents food that is regurgitated from re-entering the horse
or pony's mouth.
A prolonged episode of choke can cause scar tissue in the oesophagus
and pneumoniacan occur as a result of fluid or feed getting into the lungs
during an attack.
WHAT CAUSES CHOKE IN A HORSE?
the muscles in a horse's gullet are strong, their strength
is not limitless.
A greedy pony or horse may get Choke when he gulps down a large mouthful
of dry hay, sugar
beet, pony nuts, carrots
or other dry and absorbent food.
The waves of contraction in the muscular wall of the horses's oesophagus
may only succeed in carrying the food down part way.
The contractions may run out of steam somewhere in the lower neck or
chest of the horse.
Another swallow will simply pile up more of the food at the site of the
Once the process has been clogged up the jammed mass of food material
will soak up the lubricating secretions from the lining of the horse's
oesophagus. Then the gullet will become dry and thoroughly impacted.
SYMPTONS OF CHOKE IN A HORSE OR PONY
- The horse will be distressed and extending and stretching his
- Regurgitated food and white foamy saliva coming from the horse's nostrils
- Violent coughing, retching and gasping.
- Sometimes the horse may appear to have colic.
- Difficulty in swallowing
- The horse may blow out feed through his nose and mouth .
If the attack of choke is not cleared by the initial bout of of coughing
and heaving the horse will move into a quieter phase of choke in which
the reflex stimulation to cough is lost
The horse or pony will become depressed and stand about with food debris
and saliva coming out of his nostrils each time that he swallows.
HOW TO TREAT A HORSE THAT HAS CHOKE
- Although many cases of choke will clear by themselves this IS a medical
emergency so call your vet immediately you see these symptoms.
- If the choke has not cleared by the time he arrives the vet will insert
a stomach tube and gently flush the oesophagus until the blackage is
washed away - this may take some time.
- Some horses need to be sedated to encourage relaxation of the muscles
which may be clamped tightly around the blocked segment.
- In very bad cases surgery may be necessary under general anaesthetic.
An incision may be made into the oesophagus to remove the blockage or
the pressure of a hose pipe may be used to wash out the obstruction.
- Follow up treatment includes relaxant drugs and antibiotics as bruising
and ulceration of the oesophagus is common - nevertheless cases of choke
in horses carry a very good prognosis.
- Whilst recovering from an episode of choke the horse's diet should
mainly consist of a soft gruel fed little and often. Hay and grass should
Causes and Treatment of Choke in Horses - an obstruction of
the oesophagus of a horse. Symptoms include regurgitated food and saliva
coming from the horse's nostrils,coughing and gasping.