Choke a relatively common condition

Choke is a relatively common condition in the horse that requires veterinary attention as soon as it is noticed.

What is ‘choke’ and what causes the problem?

The term ‘choke’ actually refers to an obstruction of the oesophagus (gullet), as opposed to an obstruction of the airway when a human chokes.

Choke may occur as primary problem, such as swallowing a large or dry piece of food material. Choke can also occur secondarily to issues such as poor teeth, leading to inadequate chewing and breaking down of food.

How will I know my horse has choke?

Often, the first thing you will notice in a case of oesophageal obstruction is a green, frothy discharge coming out of both nostrils. The discharge usually has food material in it and is due to build-up of ingested food in front of the obstruction. Unlike other species, horses can’t vomit, so the easiest path for food material to track back up the oesophagus is out through the nose.

Horses that are “choking” often hold their head out stretched, swallowing multiple times, coughing and can also look anxious. You may even see a bulge in the left side of their neck where the obstruction is.


How is choke treated?

Firstly, your vet will often sedate your horse to calm them down, allowing further investigation without any stress. An anti-spasmodic drug is often used to relax the oesophagus to increase the likelihood of the obstruction passing into the stomach. A nasogastric tube is often passed into the oesophagus. This helps to identify how far down the obstruction is and sometimes your vet maybe able to push the obstruction into the stomach or potentially flush it down by administering some water into the tube.

The vast majority of choke cases in the horse resolve to simple treatment on farm, but sometimes they don’t resolve easily and further investigation and treatment may be required at a referral hospital. Often an endoscope is required to visualise what is causing the obstruction and how serious the obstruction is.


Are there any complications associated with choke?

The main complication associated with choke is aspiration pneumonia. This occurs when food material that has tracked back up the oesophagus due to the obstruction and becomes inhaled down the trachea and into the lungs. Even small amounts of food and saliva down in the lungs can cause an infection and develop into a severe pneumonia. If you vet suspects that this may be occurring they will most likely start your horse on some antibiotics. The other common complication of choke is the formation of an oesophageal stricture. A stricture is essentially a narrowing of the oesophagus due to scar tissue formation after the oesophagus has been traumatised by the obstruction. It is also important to treat any primary dental disease that may have caused your horse to choke in the first place.

If you think your horse is ‘choking’ please do not hesitate to call us on 02 4861 7983.

The Team @ SHEC








Spring has finally sprung in the Southern Highlands and as an equine vet clinic this  is our favourite time of the year.

A large amount of foals are born over the coming months and the Southern  Highlands is becoming a renowned breeding area for Thoroughbred’s and non-  Thoroughbreds alike, but what should you know about the  foaling process?

The normal gestational length for a mare is 326 – 343 days. Predicting parturition  is difficult but mammary development and dried secretions or ‘wax’ on the end of  the teats is a sign of impending parturition.

Since most mares foal at night, most commercial studs elect to observe mares on a  24-hour basis as they near their due date. Foaling alarms and milk electrolytes test  kits can help the small breeder better predict time of foaling and help avoid sitting up all night for weeks on end.  Southern Highlands Equine Centre has both available at the office either for purchase (test kit) or for hire (foaling alarm).

The first stage of parturition lasts from 30 minutes to 3 hours and characteristics include sweating, colic-like signs, and repeatedly lying down and getting up.

The onset of the second stage starts when the fetal membranes rupture (‘water breaks’), the cervix is dilated and the foal enters the birth canal due to strong uterine contractions.  The foal should present with one foot just in front of the other with the soles of the hooves pointing down and the head following shortly after. The nose should appear once the fetlocks are through the vulva and the amnion should rupture when the shoulders are visible.  If this doesn’t occur the amnion should gently be broken and removed from the foal’s nostrils to prevent suffocation.  Once the foal’s hips are through the pelvis the mare may rest with the hocks and hind fetlocks in the birth canal.  Minimal disturbance at this stage is important to continue to allow the blood from the placenta to reach the foal while the cord is still intact.  When the mare stands the umbilical cord usually ruptures.  The whole of the second stage should be completed within 20-30minutes.  If there is no progression of parturition within 15 minutes of the waters breaking veterinary attention should be sought immediately.  Dystocia is a true emergency and prompt correction of the problem is imperative for the survival of the foal (and sometimes the mare).

Third stage of parturition involves expulsion of the fetal membranes and uterine involution.  This can take anywhere from a few minutes to several hours after birth.  Retention of fetal membranes over 6 hours requires veterinary treatment.

The foal should be standing within 1 hour and on the suck (drinking) within 2 hours of birth. Monitor the foal closely over the first 24 hours of life to detect any abnormalities. Please call your veterinarian if you have any concerns about your newborn foal.

Maria Diaz 2.1



Gastroscope Day

EVENT – Gastroscope Day 25th August 2016

Gastroscope Day 25th of August

50% off the first 3 bookings taken.

20% Off Preventative Care Voucher for every booking.

Places are limited call 02 4861 7983 now to confirm your place.



Gastric Ulcers

Gastric ulcers are erosions of the horses stomach mucosa (aka stomach lining) that occur as a result of excessive exposure to acid production.  Gastric Ulcers can affect any age of horse right from a foal and can occur in any breed.

Some of the following signs may be seen in a horse with gastric ulcers:

  • Inappetence
  • Weight loss
  • Poor performance
  • A loss in condition – eg poor coat
  • Subtle behavioural changes
  • Mild low-grade recurrent colic

The signs of gastric ulcers are often very subtle but many astute owners will pick up on these subtle changes. A common reason for investigation, especially in a performance horse is that the owner feels that the horse is “just not quite right” – in the absence of anything else, gastric ulcers may be the answer.

Endoscopy of the stomach is currently the only technique to achieve a definitive diagnosis of gastric ulceration in a live horse. The procedure is conducted standing in a sedated horse which has been fasted for 6-12hrs. A flexible endoscope of at least 3m in length is required so all parts of the stomach can be visualised.

 Leanne Begg Gastroscope

If you think your horse may have gastric ulceration and would like a definitive diagnosis make your booking for the SHEC Gastroscope day now.


REP Logo

EVENT – Equine Podiatry Talk 29th July 2016

The Southern Highlands Equine Centre (SHEC) is pleased to announce that our sister practice Randwick Equine Podiatry (REP) will be holding a Podiatry Talk at the local Berrima District Pony Club House (Moss Vale Road, Burradoo)  at 4PM on the 29th July 2016.

To confirm your place please call (02 4861 7983) or drop us a line at

 The aim of the presentation will be to provide owners with up to date information on foot care, the importance of good foot balance and corrective shoeing options.

EquiPodiatry HORSES HOOFne Podiatry Presentation Flyer


Equivac HeV



MAY 16, 2016, 2:30 PM

SYDNEY, May 16, 2016 – Today marks a breakthrough for horse owners and the equine industry with the world’s first Hendra virus horse vaccine, Equivac® HeV, now approved for annual boosters following administration of the first three doses.

Previously, horses were required to have six-monthly boosters to maintain immunity against the deadly virus. Now, horse owners can halve the number of boosters required after a single six-month booster is administered, making Hendra vaccination much more affordable.

“When vaccinated horses were challenged with a potent strain of Hendra virus 12-months after receiving a six-month booster, these horses were protected from infection,” said Dr. Deborah Middleton, lead researcher at the CSIRO’s Australian Animal Health Laboratory (AAHL). The work at CSIRO was supported by extensive field studies in which antibody levels were measured in horses vaccinated at intervals of 12 months.

“We are confident in the safety and efficacy of 12-month immunity for Equivac HeV and pleased this work has resulted in a positive outcome for horse owners and the equine industry”, she added.

Lance Williams, General Manager for Zoetis in Australia and New Zealand added:

“This highly anticipated announcement would not have been possible without the ongoing support from the CSIRO and our industry partners, as well as those involved in the initial development of this important vaccine.

“Zoetis is extremely proud to be part of the solution to reduce the risk of the deadly Hendra virus,” he said.

The Hendra virus can be fatal to both horses and humans. Vaccination is the single most effective way of reducing the risk of Hendra virus infection in horses. By vaccinating horses, owners are also protecting themselves, their families and anyone who comes into contact with horses.

Horse owners are reminded to speak with their vet to ensure their horses are vaccinated and compliant with required boosters.

About Zoetis
Zoetis (zô-EH-tis) is the leading animal health company, dedicated to supporting its customers and their businesses. Building on more than 60 years of experience in animal health, Zoetis discovers, develops, manufactures and markets veterinary vaccines and medicines, complemented by diagnostic products and genetic tests and supported by a range of services. Zoetis serves veterinarians, livestock producers and people who raise and care for farm and companion animals with sales of its products in more than 100 countries. In 2015, the company generated annual revenue of $4.8 billion with approximately 9,000 employees. For more information, visit



Ever wondered why your little pony seems to have a long hair coat even in the warmer months, or why he or she keeps getting bouts of laminitis again and again even though you’ve tried so hard to prevent it? Well, you’re pony may in fact be suffering from Equine Cushing’s disease.


What is Cushing’s disease?
Cushing’s disease is the most common hormonal condition seen in older horses and ponies.

Cushing’s is more often seen in pony breeds, but larger breeds can be affected and it is primarily seen in older horses above the age of 15 years. Equine Cushing’s is usually caused by a benign tumour (adenoma) of the pituitary gland in the brain. This tumour results in a higher than normal level of circulating cortisol (a stress hormone) within the blood. It is this over production of cortisol that affects the horse and can explain the majority of clinical signs seen in this condition. The location of the tumour can explain some of the rest.

What are the signs of Cushing’s?

  • Abnormal hair coat, which may be long and wavy, fails to shed normally and is accompanied by excessive sweating and pruritus (itching).
  • Laminitis – increased digital pulse, pottery gait, standing with feet stretched out in front.
  • Excessive drinking and urination
  • Lethargy
  • Fat redistribution – a pot-bellied appearance, bulging above the eyes or ‘bags below the eyes’.
  • Other signs may include an increased susceptibility to infections, particularly of the skin and sinuses as well as foot abscesses.

How is it diagnosed?

There are several different blood tests that can be used to diagnose Cushing’s disease in the horse. One of the common tests is to measure the resting ACTH (adrenocorticotropin hormone). This is a simple once off blood sample that gives fairly reliable results in regards to diagnosis as well as being used to monitor the progression of the condition once treatment has started. Other blood tests include a Low Dose Dexamethasone Suppression Test and the ACTH stimulation test. Your veterinarian can offer advice on which test would be right for your horse.

Can it be treated?

Yes – there are drugs available to treat Cushing’s disease although there is individual variation in response to treatment.

The most commonly used drug is Pergolide, which is available either in tablet form or as a syrup – both of which are given daily by mouth. In response to this treatment horses typically become less lethargic, their coat condition improves and they often drink and urinate less frequently.

Like any older horse or pony, those with Cushing’s disease require a little extra TLC. Regular clipping of the coat helps with temperature regulation and may help relieve excessive sweating and itchiness. Ensure you keep up to date with foot trimming, routine dental care, vaccinations and worming. Any signs of infection should be treated promptly as horses often have a lower immune response and are less able to deal with even relatively minor infections.

If you suspect your horse may be suffering from Cushing’s disease please contact the team at SHEC or your local vet to organise a consultation.