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




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