A choke is what happens when a horse eats too much too fast or has possible issues within the esophagus from previous infections, previous choking or other damage.
It is a very scary thing to witness, especially if you do not realize what is happening. We see many incidents of choke within the rescue, unfortunately. Thankfully, because we understand this event and know how to handle it, it usually ends quickly and with minor issues and no lasting negative effects.
The first thing you may notice is that often a horse will be coughing, gagging and have nasty stuff coming out of their nose. They may be frantic, running about and fearful with their head up or down. Sometimes they will just be making a whistling noise and not drink. You usually will see snot, water or food running back out of the nose of the horse because nothing can pass.
PLEASE KNOW HORSES CAN ALWAYS BREATHE DURING CHOKE. It isn’t like choke in humans.
We like to keep the horses moving, calm and give banamine while we massage the effected blocked part of the horse’s neck/throat. Usually it can be felt easily. We do not let the horse have access to water or food. The quicker the choke resolves, the less apt you will have aspiration pneumonia or a stricture. We will usually wait 30 minutes, and if the choke hasn’t resolves, a vet is called. Tubing, buscopan (RX), sedation and antibiotics are typically needed if the choke lasts very long.
Once a horse has choked, it is more likely to choke in the future.
Horses can choke when they feel the need to eat too quickly, so previously starved horses or horses in areas where food competition is high are at greater risk.
One of the very best ways that we can prevent a choke is to not feed a hungry horse grain before hay. Let a horse have their fill of hay for 20-30 minutes prior. In that way, they will not be “starving” and bolt their grain as fast as possible.
Horse can also be more prone to choke if they are dehydrated. Choking incidences increase when the weather is cold and the horses aren’t drinking as much. Please make sure that your horses all have access to minerals and water that is not frigid.
The older horses are also very susceptible to choke because they have lost much of their grinding surfaces. One way to solve this is to make them a slow feeder, feed soaked mush and make sure a horse’s teeth are done frequently and well.
Staying up to date on dental care, Soaking dry matter, like alfalfa pellets, using a slow feeder, making sure a horse has plenty of hay first and making feeding time a safe time for a horse to eat slowly without competition are all ways to help lessen the risk of Choke
(see the link for instructions)