While the chances for an esophageal blockage in horses is higher in winter because they are being fed more hay and may have less access to unfrozen water, it's prudent to take precautions year-round. While choking in people is a true emergency with imminent death within minutes if the blockage isn't removed, choking in horses is much less time sensitive as the blockage is of the esophagus, not the airway. A choking horse can breathe, but he may get panicky at not being able to swallow properly.
Typically caused by inadequately chewed feed or a large chunk of carrot, choking can damage the esophagus and can cause long-term, serious health issues. Most cases of choke clear on their own, but some cases may require assistance to help the mass pass.
A horse that is choking will stretch out his neck and cough repeatedly while producing copious amounts of saliva to pass the mass into the stomach. Though most chokes resolve on their own, it's a good idea to call a vet to look over the horse to see if there are any physical reasons why the horse choked. If the blockage hasn't resolved by the time the vet arrives, he or she will most likely sedate the horse, which will encourage the horse to drop his head and relax the muscles that are constricting the mass of food.
If the mass still doesn't move on its own, the vet will insert a nasogastric tube and flush the blockage with multiple gallons of warm water. Medications that encourage smooth muscle relaxation may also be given. In rare cases, a horse may require a trip to the clinic so a tool can be used to remove the blockage. In very rare instances, a horse may need surgery to get the mass out.
To limit the possibility of choking, horses should:
- Eat forage that is easy to chew
- Have regular dental checkups
- Have access to ample, unfrozen, fresh water
- Be fed treats that are smaller than 2 inches in diameter
- Eat slowly; horses that eat too rapidly are more likely to ingest partially chewed food
- Be fed at a height lower than his chest
- Be allowed to recover fully from sedation before eating
Read more at EQUUS.
New to the Paulick Report? Click here to sign up for our daily email newsletter to keep up on this and other stories happening in the Thoroughbred industry.
Copyright © 2020 Paulick Report.