Ask the Vet – Choke in horses


SARAH: “I have an older horse– 20 plus–” She’s not going
to go into specifics, just like I didn’t want to before. You know, it’s fine. It’s not a mare. “and he has
recently started choking. He is now considered
a chronic choker. I have had to get him
tubed twice by the vet–” that’s a bummer–
“and now we have to soak his feed in
half a bucket of water. We think it is due to him
just getting too excited about his food–”
which I can understand, we’ve all been there– “my vet recommended soaking his
food or taking him off grain. Grain is the only
thing he chokes on. Do you have any other
ways of dealing with it? And can you explain why
it’s easier for a horse to choke after they’ve
done it once already?” DR LYDIA GRAY: Let’s back
up a little bit and talk about what choke is. SARAH: Yeah, because it
sounds like he’d recently started choking,
feels like– well don’t submit a question
on the internet, choking sounds
like an emergency. And so the difference
between choke and choking is an important one. DR LYDIA GRAY: And choking
people and choking horses. SARAH: Yeah. DR LYDIA GRAY: Yeah. So, when you think
about a person choking, you think airway and Heimlich
maneuver, an emergency, and like two or
three minutes right? SARAH: Yeah, you’re
supposed to do this. DR LYDIA GRAY: Yeah. The international symbol. It’s a little bit
different on horses, we’re talking about
choke in the esophagus. So, it’s an esophageal
obstruction. Still an emergency,
but not like minutes. So, she did right
in calling her vet and they put a nasogastric tube
down and lavaged with water. Water helps everything,
it turns out. So, it’s unfortunate. It is common in the older horse. So, she said 20 plus. And horses tend to choke on
grain when they eat too fast. Hay, if they don’t
have good teeth anymore and they can’t chew it into
smaller pieces and swallow it, they swallow big pieces
and then it backs up. If they don’t have enough
water in their diet. So, there’s a couple of
reasons– but it’s hay, it’s pasture, and it’s a grain
or that kind of feed stuff. I brought a prop today. SARAH: Oh, I was wondering
what this was for. DR LYDIA GRAY: She
said her horse gets excited about eating,
and mine does too. And so– SARAH: Oh, Newman. DR LYDIA GRAY: Yeah. What I did was– I don’t know if this– I’m a little afraid to tilt
it, and it’s quite heavy. So this is some grain in
here, and these are actually bocce balls, because
they’re heavy, they’re round and smooth, and
they make the horse slow down to eat the yummy grain. And he has to move these
around a little bit. My horse has become
very, very good. He can get every
little pebble, he just knows to move these around. But he can’t come in here with
an open mouth and wolf it down, and that’s when you
run the risk of choke, because you wolf down
too much at once, you don’t wet it with saliva,
and then the esophagus– which, the tube from the
mouth of the stomach– gets backed up. SARAH: Lots of tube talk today. [LAUGHING] DR LYDIA GRAY:
Lots of tube talk. So, the vet did right. You give sedatives,
maybe muscle relaxants, to let the esophagus
open up and let it pass, and you lavage with water
in the stomach tube. Sometimes you do have to
go to surgery if it’s bad. I was sorry to hear that
he’s done it more than once, and so now he’s
a chronic choker. And the reason you become
sort of prone to this is– especially if it lasts too
long, you could have some damage to the issue of esophagus. You either create ulcers in
the lining, or strictures. So there’s a narrower place,
and now, every time he eats, the food is going to
back up right there. So that’s a problem. And it’s why choking
is an emergency, because you want it resolved as
quickly as possible so that you don’t have ulcers and
strictures and chronic choking. So, we got this. Soaking, wetting– soaking
better than wetting– the hay. Pasture– for some horses,
becomes not a thing they can do anymore, because every
time they eat grass– SARAH: Especially if
they’re unsupervised out in the pasture, that’s tough. DR LYDIA GRAY: Maybe a
muzzle, so it slows down the rate of intake. Could be helpful. I always like the small hole hay
nets or the slow feed hay bags, because it slows down
the rate of intake. Anything you can do
to slow their eating and to soften their
eating; to wet it, to encourage them to drink
with the SmartSalt pellets– those are all things
that you can do to help the horse that chokes. SARAH: OK. Well, Evelyn, we wish you
luck with your senior. DR LYDIA GRAY: Yeah.


5 Responses

  1. FlyingWithoutWings

    April 12, 2017 7:56 pm

    my mare (7) got choke in February…she was a rescue and she choked on either carrots, hay, or oats (likely the latter). Vet had to tube her and as it turned out her teeth needed to be floated even though the rescue told me she had them done recently…was such a nightmare to handle. Anyhow, instead of using those balls you can just use large rocks to help them slow down on eating.

  2. equinebrainiac

    April 13, 2017 4:36 am

    my horse choked in september and it was so bad the vet thought he was going to have to be put down. He luckily pulled through but it was a scary week to say the least. The vet then recommended he not be fed much hay as he is a chronic choker (he has choked 4+ times now) and to pretty much only feed him beet pulp. Is there anything I can add to his diet that would insure he takes in the appropriate amount of nutrients with no more than a few pounds of hay?

  3. Sarah Kersten

    April 13, 2017 9:27 pm

    There are slow feed bowls for dogs (I have one for my food obsessed beagle). Sounds like SmartPak should look at making them for horses!


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