Signs and Symptoms of Choke
 By Winniefield Park   •   3rd Nov 2013   •   2,868 views   •   0 comments
Signs and Symptoms of Choke

Horses can be prone to something called choke. Choke, also called esophageal obstruction, is when the esophagus, the tube between the mouth and the stomach, becomes blocked. Choke can also be caused by foreign objects. Curious horses will sometimes pick up small items and accidentally swallow them. Or, a horse may swallow bits of wood if they chew trees, fences or stall walls. Horses that are greedy eaters may choke on poorly chewed hay or concentrates. An injury to the throat either externally or internally can also cause choke. Choke is fairly common. Bend Equine Medical Center lists it as one of the top ten equine veterinary emergencies.

Signs of Choke
1. Mucousy vomit-like, discolored drool and/or nasal discharge that may be flecked with bits of food.
2. Repeated but ineffective attempts to swallow.
3. General distress, including elevated pulse and respiration, sweating and colic-like symptoms.
4. Coughing
A blockage that may be felt through the skin part way down the neck.
5. Standing with the neck stretched down and forward.

What To Do If You Suspect Choke
If you think your horse is suffering from choke, you must call a veterinarian immediately. It's unlikely a choke will resolve itself. Take away any food or water. Do not try to manipulate any lump you may find in the horse's throat. Doing so can force food particles into the horse's airways, and that can lead to pneumonia, which can become fatal. It could also cause damage to the esophagus.

What The Veterinarian Will Do
To confirm that your horse is suffering from choke, a veterinarian will pass a stomach tube down the horse's esophagus. The tube may meet with a complete obstruction (not all are evident from the outside of the horse), or if there is resistance, it may mean there is stenosis, which is narrowing that could indicate infection or injury or that there is a partial obstruction of unswallowed food.

Once the choke is confirmed the first step may be to administer a muscle relaxant. This may be enough to help a food blockage move through. If that is not effective, the vet may pass the stomach tube down the horse's nostril, and very gently attempt to push the mass down. Warm water may also be used to soften the obstruction, using caution not to get any liquid in the horse's trachea where it could cause havoc in the airways. The horse may be anaesthetized, and a orotracheal tube put in place to prevent the horse inhaling water and food bits, during more vigorous rinsing. Endoscopy may also be used. If the mass cannot be pushed and rinsed through the horse may require surgery.

How to Prevent Choke
1. Fresh water should be available at all times.
2. Greedy eaters should have feeds like beet pulp, pelleted feeds and grain well wetted.
3. Use large stones or 'slow feeders' to slow down greedy eaters.
4. Feed treats like carrots, apples and other hard feeds in small pieces, a small amount at a time.
5. Feed small meals more frequently rather than one or two large meals. The horse won't be so hungry and likely to bolt their meals.
6. Have your horse's teeth checked regularly. Horses that can't chew properly are more prone to choke.
7. Older horses that have lost teeth should have soaked foods.

Image Credit: © Reddogs |
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