Esophageal Obstruction (Choke)
Choke is an impaction or obstruction of the esophagus, usually caused by a bolus or lump of food. It is not a tracheal (windpipe) obstruction, which impairs breathing. Your horse cannot swallow but can still breath normally. Patience is important so please remain calm. A choke can resolve spontaneously within a few minutes. If a choke persists for more than 20 minutes, or if you are unsure as to how long the horse has been obstructed, please call our office for assistance. Timely treatment is very important due significant irritation caused by the feed material lodged within the esophagus and can even lead to severe erosion of the mucosal surface of the esophagus.
Common signs of choke:
Important Points in Treatment
- Remove all feed and water.
- Keep your horse in stall or paddock free of any bedding, feed and water so your horse cannot eat, as any food could slide down the open windpipe, causing aspiration pneumonia.
- Once the vet arrives, the patient is usually given a mild tranquilizer to calm and relax the spasms in the espohagus. A nasogastric tube is gently and carefully passed into the espohagus and the blockage is lavaged clear of the esophagus. This can take minutes or hours depending upon the severity and source of the obstruction. Softer feeds like pellets or sweet feed usually do not take as long to relieve compared to bedding, hay or other foreign objects (including large chunks of apples or carrots).
- It is standard for most all patients that are treated for a choke to be given an antiinflammatory and antibiotic to relieve irritation and pain as well as prevent an aspiration pneumonia.
- Aspiration pneumonia is on the most common complications of a choke. It can be quite costly to treat a full blown case of aspiration pneumonia. It is much more economical to seek immediate professional care and most likely, prevent this complication.
- After the choke has been resolved, provide no food for 24 hrs, then soft, mushy feed, such as bran mash or soaked Senior feed for 4 days. Feed horse in a pan on the ground.
Choke can recur. If eating too fast is a contributing cause, put come large (6-inch) stones in with the feed or put hay in a tight hay net (or bag). This forces the horse to eat slowly.
Have your horse's teeth checked to determine if there is an underlying dental cause for the choke. Especially if the choke is recurrent.