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Horse Choking

Keith P. Poulsen, DVM, University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine, provides simple first-aid guidelines for horse owners.

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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 

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Elli    International

2/26/2015 7:30:06 PM

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.

Tina    Simcoe, ON

1/17/2014 8:20:56 AM

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.

Laurie    Rochester, NY

10/1/2012 8:50:11 AM

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.

Krystyn    Milwaukee, WI

12/10/2011 1:10:29 AM

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?

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