Horse Choking

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Q. If I suspect that my horse is choking, what first-aid protocol should I follow while waiting for the veterinarian to arrive?

A. Simple choke, or esophageal obstruction, is the most common disorder of the esophagus in horses. Horses can choke on foreign bodies, bedding, or other roughage including coarse grass hay or leafy alfalfa. Common things that lead to choke in horses are prior choke, dental abnormalities and rapid ingestion of feed. The important factor with choke is early recognition and treatment to avoid permanent damage to the esophagus. Horses that choke may have a variety of different clinical signs. Common presentations may include anxiety, standing with an extended neck, retching or gagging, feed material draining out the nose, excessive salivation and coughing. If you suspect that your horse is choking and you have called your veterinarian, the most important first-aid protocol to follow is to attempt to keep your horse calm, avoid exercise, and remove feed and water to avoid aspiration.

How to handle and prevent horse chokingKeith Poulsen (DVM) graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine in 2004.  He returned to his alma mater in 2005 to pursue a residency in large animal internal medicine.

University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine 

16 COMMENTS

  1. Both my gelding and my colt have choked before and since then we try to break up the hay before feeding it to them. Though we didn’t call the vet, we helped keep them call and wiped their nose so they could breath. However this was just simple chocking and they soon got it over with and started eating again.

  2. After one of our horses died from pneumonia following choking, we are very sensitive about this subject. Our other 3 horses were also choking regularly during feeding – we were using pelleted feed. We switched to Purina Omolene, added rocks in their feed buckets to slow them down, and watch them carefully during eating.

  3. My horse choked yesterday. I didn’t even realize she was choking, it looked like she had a cold or something. Her nose was runny, she was coughing and trying hard to swallow but couldn’t. A few minutes later, she was fine. She scarfed down her food too fast. She wasn’t choking terribly bad since she tried to run away from me in the field when I went to catch her. I called the vet the next morning, and I’m keeping a close eye on her to make sure she’s okay.

  4. What do you do if the vet is unreachable? We have one vet that covers 3 counties. It may take hours for him to get there or maybe not at all. What should we do under these circumstances? What if the horse doesn’t recover on their own? Should you put your hand in their throat to look for an obstruction? Try a tracheotomy as a last resort or try mouth to nose resuscitation?

  5. I think most people want to know what to do when its a matter of life or death. Most would call a vet asp. But if its a matter of life or death
    we want to do something right then and thier.We want to know should we put our hand down throt or cut a hole in the throt so the hosre can breath until the vet arives. Whats the most life saving thing to do?

  6. I appreciate the suggestion that you call a Vet to deal with many horse situations, but many of us do not have a Vet that will come out to deal with emergency situations. If it is during office hours, my Vet usually tells me to bring the horse in and they can take a look. At times, this is just not possible for me or safe for the horse. We really do need more information on how we can help our horses at home.

  7. My horse choked not to long ago. I had to wait for and hour for the vet. While I was waiting I kept the horse calm and massaged her throat to help break up the mass. However, it was so far down that it would have been impossible to remove mechanically. A hose at a trickle into the nose and down the throat helps. However, use caution, you could get it in the lungs. Don’t leave the hose in to long. You only want to break up the mass. Let the water run back out of the nose/mouth. Be careful not to drown them with to much water.

  8. after having encounters with a choking horse i have learnt these measures.
    how to prevent….
    dont give youre horse hay in the horse float if you are going down a bumpy road.
    inspect your hay and look out for chokeable items such as dusty hay or hay with clumps in it.
    sighns of a choking horse…
    coughing and mucas/snot being discharged from the nostral aera.
    what to do.. CALL THE VET
    DONT let your horse lay down and get him/her at a trot and continue to massage the throat and back into a trot. my experiance took me about 2 hours
    follow the vets advice and after the event hose down the horse

  9. My horse chocked last night. Luckily I was able to get it resolved within a couple minutes. All I did was keep her calm, and massage her throat. I could hear where the blockage was. All it took was a massage, and remaining calm (myself and the horse). A little more information would be helpful as to what to do if you can’t go to the vet and the vet can’t come to you right away.

  10. my vet suggested getting the horse to trot or to load her in and out of our trailer or to get her to jump across something, usually the creek bank, to use the upward motion to dislodge the clump. if you see them drink water w/no problem you’re home free! also lost one years ago that aspirated.

  11. My horse choked just a few hours ago on his grain. He is an older horse and after an hour and a half, the vet and i had little success of completely dislodging the mass. I hope he makes it through the night. Thanks to the website and the other comments I was able to diagnose what was wrong with my horse quickly. I have had this horse (as well as others) for 23 years (since I was 8) and have never had a horse choke before. I hope I don’t ever have to witness this again; its an awful experience for the horse, especially if the mass is not dislodged. Pray for Nicky, please.

  12. If your horse is actively choking and you encourage that much movement (trotting and such) won’t that cause the horse to aspirate if the matter doesn’t move?

  13. When our horse was choking we put a hose down his throat and turned on the water full blast. This dislodged the hey that was stuck and saved him. Very scary ordeal.

  14. I had my horse choke, well I believe it was choke. She wouldn’t eat and was standing with her head down and kept making this swallowing sound repeatedly. I checked inside the mouth and could see some chewed hay at the back of the throat. After calling the vet I went back out and began to massage what felt like a lump in the neck down from the throat line. I think I managed to dislodge the obstruction because she stopped making the swallowing sound. I recalled the vet with the update as she had began eating again, the vet didn’t think it was choke but I know there was something stuck in there making her uneasy and unable to continue eating. Very scary indeed.

  15. I have a mare who scoffs her feed and chokes. She only does it when she is fed hay or chaff, even though she grazes all day.
    When the choke occurs we get one of the extra large syringes that you get from the vets or feed store and squirt water down her throat (as if you were giving her a worming treatment). Has worked every time.

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