My Horse Is a Pig
Mealtime is the highlight of every horse’s day, so when they get fed, they indulge heavilysometimes too heavilycausing “choke.”
As you may have figured out by now, your horse lives to eat. But eating too vigorously can cause food to back up in the esophagus, which can instigate “choke,” or “esophageal obstruction.” Contributing factors include poor dentition (teeth) or feeding a horse not fully recovered from sedation.
When choked, a horse will stop eating and look distressed. Other symptoms include saliva dripping from his nose and/or mouth, coughing up undigested food particles, or even sometimes looking colicky. Choke can clear on its own, but often veterinary intervention is needed. Preliminary treatment while waiting for the doctor to arrive involves removing all food and water and gently massaging the esophagus to help break down the blockage. Veterinary treatment includes administering a tranquilizer to lower the head and relax the esophagus. The veterinarian will pass a nasogastric tube down the esophagus and use gentle pressure, combined with lavage around the mass, to attempt to dislodge it. After the choke is cleared, stemmy or course food is withheld for a period to allow the esophagus to heal.
Once the choke is resolved, horses usually recover without complication. On the rare occasions that the esophagus is not cleared in a timely manner, horses can develop aspiration pneumonia or complications of the esophageal lining. Antibiotics, anti-inflammatories or possibly even hospitalization may be required.
If your horse is prone to choke, we recommend that you feed him smaller amounts more often and place a large smooth rock in his feed bucket so that he will have to work to get at his food, thus slowing down ingestion. If your horse has poor dentition, he should also receive the appropriate dental care. We may also recommend that you switch to a different type of feed to prevent future episodes.