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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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Reader Comments

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?

Channon    Elizabethtown, KY

12/1/2011 7:42:22 PM

My horse choked just a few hours ago on his grain. He is an older horse and after an hour and a half, the vet and i had little success of completely dislodging the mass. I hope he makes it through the night. Thanks to the website and the other comments I was able to diagnose what was wrong with my horse quickly. I have had this horse (as well as others) for 23 years (since I was 8) and have never had a horse choke before. I hope I don't ever have to witness this again; its an awful experience for the horse, especially if the mass is not dislodged. Pray for Nicky, please.

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