Of Horse

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Choke is a pretty common condition which is distressing for the horse and very frightening for the owner.

What is choke?

Choke happens when food or a foreign body partially or completely blocks the horse's gullet (oesophagus); the tube through which food passes from the back of the mouth en route to the stomach. A horse has no vomit reflex and is therefore unable to remove the blockage himself. He will quickly become extremely uncomfortable and there is a risk of dehydration if the obstruction is not removed promptly. Although it's rare, there is also the chance that the oesophagus could rupture placing the horse at risk of death from infection or shock.

Causes of choke

Choke usually occurs when a horse swallows food which is too dry, usually hay, or unsoaked sugar beet which then swells rapidly as soon as it becomes dampened by the horse's saliva. Greedy horses who bolt eat hay or straw without chewing it properly are prone to suffering episodes of choke. Choke can also be caused by other conditions which interfere with the horse's swallowing reflex. These include; botulism, grass sickness, trauma and even sedation.

How to recognise the signs of choke

When a horse has choke, the first giveaway is food coming from his nostrils and/or his mouth and this is often accompanied by froth and saliva. Often there will be a gurgling sound, caused by excessive amounts of saliva. Some horses will become distressed and begin to panic, making repeated unsuccessful attempts to swallow and will often cough or gag. Sometimes the horse will stand with his neck stretched out and will appear depressed.

Always summon veterinary assistance if your horse is choking, particularly if he appears to have been suffering for a long time. The vet will confirm diagnosis, probably by inserting a stomach tube into the oesophagus. He will also be able to determine where the blockage is and whether it will be possible to gently encourage it on its way to the stomach.


The horse continually produces saliva in his mouth and sometimes this will lubricate the obstruction sufficiently to allow it to move on down the oesophagus and into the stomach. Often the vet will administer a spasmolytic drug to relax the oesophagus and this may allow the blockage to clear naturally.

If this is unsuccessful, it may be possible to massage the obstruction until it breaks up enough to pass on its way to the stomach. A stomach tube may be inserted to try to break up the obstruction or it may be flushed through with water and lubricant. If the horse is particularly distressed or uncooperative, it may be necessary to sedate or even anaesthetise him in order to carry out the procedure without risk of damage to the oesophagus.

Once the blockage has been cleared, the vet will want to keep an eye on the horse in case he has inhaled any foreign bodies into his lungs which could cause pneumonia. For the next few days, sloppy food or grass should be given to allow any swelling chance to settle down.


Always have your horse's teeth checked regularly by a properly qualified equine dentist or by your vet. If the teeth are sharp, your horse may experience discomfort while he's eating and will not be able to chew his food properly which could lead to choke.

If you feed dry rations, always make sure you damp them sufficiently before feeding and soak dried feedstuffs like sugar beet pulp thoroughly. You should make sure that your horse has access to plenty of clean, fresh water at all times.

If your horse is inclined to become anxious and bolt his food, feed him when the yard is quiet so that he's more relaxed. Feed haylage and hay in special haylage nets with extra-small holes to prevent him scoffing too much in one mouthful. Always slice carrots, apples and the like into small, lengthways slivers or grate them into pulp to be mixed with his feed so that he can't swallow one whole and choke on it.

Disclaimer: Of Horse! and sponsors do not endorse nor validate the accuracy of a blog post. Each article is the opinion of the blogger.

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  1. Rene Wright
    Rene Wright
    Voted. Very good information! :)
  2. Eve Sherrill York
    Eve Sherrill York
    What a great post! Voted. Hope you will read mine as well.
  3. jst4horses
    One of the track vets told us he was called for a horse that had its head at a strange angle and could not eat or drink. He got there and could not figure it out. The horse simply could not lower its muzzle. He took it in by ambulance for major scans. That silly horse had somehow managed to get a riding crop either in his mouth, or nose, but it was pushed far enough down it could not be seen. The vet said it must have somehow gotten it in, and when he panicked, he pushed it far enough he could not bend his head down due to the crop being stuck in his throat. They pulled it out, and horse was good as new. Maybe a bit of a giant horsey sore throat. CALL the vet for choke. I have pulled a few things out, as have other horse trainers I know, but do not recommend the owner to try this. You could get badly hurt.
    1. jst4horses
      I tried to put this in: as a separate story, but could not get paste to work. So am going to put it here instead. Wild horses, since at least the time Columbus had ships go down and horses swam ashore have been a part of America. Along the western coasts, the stories are that Kayah-yu, the name for a horse in the language of the northern California people the horses may have come here as long ago as with the Vikings, Japanese, and Chinese, and Russians who traded here for over 4,000 years before the Spanish soldiers brought, and lost horses in the mexico areas up to San Francisco where the northern most mission was located. These horses have come to symbolize the mixed races and cultures, the hardiness of the people who now inhabit this great country, America. I have spent decades volunteering to train out and develop mustangs so they will get good homes, and go to jail and juvenile programs where they will get good homes. I have found mustangs in stables where they are abused, or neglected because they have not been trained properly and spent my own time and money to recondition them and retrain them so they can live out their lives as well as possible. The US government is shaming itself by letting the contractors mistreat and sell off the mustangs. In twenty years we could use cheap forms of proven safe birth controls and we would have not one single mustang left, but they would have lived out their lives at peace in their own lands. Paul McCartney and his then wife Linda paid a fortune and had groups of people all over the world that made global laws to protect ALL animals from being rounded up with vehicles and helicopters that create extreme fear, death and injury. Please help to change the world policies. Maybe in 20 years the world will be poorer, with not one single wild horse left, but as Chief Seattle once warned: As we allow the beasts to be treated, so will be see humans treated. Did you know the Federal Government is complicit in the horse slaughter pipeline? We can't just stand by and let them get away with this. Join me in doing something about this sickening situation. Read more about the evidence and take action: http://wildhor.se/19jIn1n
  4. Teshaw R
    VOITED very great piece, I hope my piece amuses you http://www.ofhorse.com/view-post/How-To-Be-a-Good-Neighbor

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