September 13, 2008 | | Comments 0

Choke in Horses

Horse Choke

Horse Choke

Definition of Choke

Choke is one digestive disturbance common in horses. The condition occurs when a substance, usually feed material, is lodged in the esophagus causing an obstruction in the upper digestive tract. Although rarely life threatening, choke is a source of discomfort that may lead the horse to sustain unnecessary injury as the animal becomes excited in an attempt to dislodge the obstruction.

Causes of Choke in Horses

General types of obstructions resulting to choke are:

  • Food materials (e.g. pelleted feeds, corncobs, grains, boluses) become lodged usually when a horse eats too fast, or ingest very fine or very dry feeds.
  • Foreign materials such as wood shavings in the animal’s beddings and grass clippings during grazing

Sites of obstruction may occur at the opening, middle, and terminal esophagus. The thoracic inlet is also another possible location.

Symptoms of Choke in Horses

A horse with a choke may attempt to cough up the obstruction. The animal may become more excited than usual and may even lunge about as it tries to dislodge the material. However, in most cases, the obstruction remains undetected unless a physical examination is conducted.

Treatment of Choke in Horses

An animal experiencing choke should be placed in a big enough stall that permits free movement of its head. Owners and handlers are discouraged to dislodge a choke on their own because of the high possibility of injuring the esophagus or even the lungs.

An equine veterinarian will try to remove the obstruction after necessary sedation by:

  • Nasogastric tubing. A nasogastric tube is passed through the nose down the esophagus to identify the location of the material.
  • Lavage or flushing of the material with water will follow with the horse’s head in a downward position to facilitate drainage. Administer tranquilizers when necessary to facilitate lavage and allow esophageal relaxation. Flushing should be done gently to avoid damaging the esophageal lining or worse rupturing the tract.
  • Fluid therapy is performed in cases when the horse is dehydrated or to replace electrolytes.
  • Do not allow the animal to eat for approximately one day after treatment.
  • Give nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS)
  • Antibiotics in case of aspiration pneumonia
  • Surgical treatment (esophagostomy) is performed only in severe cases such as stricture.

Prevention of Choke in Horses

Since choke is commonly associated with feeds, good feeding management is important:

  • Horses that have choked are prone to do it repeatedly. Thus, these horses should not have access to the type of feeds that are likely to cause choking. Dry peletted feeds and beet pulp tend to expand when wet; moistening such feeds before giving to it to the animal is recommended.
  • For fast eaters, use large, flat-bottomed feed troughs for grains. The added space will disperse the grains and give the horses more room avoiding the need to hurry up when they eat (less competition). One may also place large rocks in the trough to slow down fast eaters.
  • Do not give hay cubes or other highly fiber-enriched treats to a horse that is not used to such feeds.
  • Observe proper dental care. A complete set of healthy teeth is needed for thorough maceration of feeds before swallow.

Entry Information

Filed Under: Horse Health

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