Chokes are common equine emergencies with potentially serious consequences. Here’s what you need to know.
Posted by Lillian M.B. Haywood, VMD, CVMA | Nov 27, 2020
Esophageal obstruction, or “choke,” is a common equine emergency. Unlike in human medicine, where choking refers to a tracheal (or windpipe) obstruction, choke in horses refers to an obstruction of the esophagus, the muscular tube that carries food from the mouth to the stomach. The most common sign horse owners recognize is feed material coming from the nostrils, although they might also notice choking horses hypersalivating, retching, not eating, acting colicky, or coughing. Chokes can have serious consequences, so it is important to have your veterinarian evaluate your horse as soon as possible.
Most commonly, chokes occur when horses eat concentrated feed too quickly without chewing it appropriately. The feed doesn’t get softened with saliva and forms a firm bolus that gets lodged in the esophagus. However, esophageal obstruction can also occur with hay or straw, hard treats, carrots, or nonfood objects. Anatomical problems, such as poor dentition and abnormal esophagus anatomy, can also predispose a horse to choking...