Horse | Choke Versus Choking

Two sound-alike conditions—equine “choke” and choking—occur in the same general location but pose distinctly different threats to horses. Choke is the lesser danger of the two because it is the esophagus, the channel that relays chewed food from the throat to the stomach, that’s blocked, often by feed but sometimes by foreign objects. A choking horse, on the other hand, has an obstruction in his windpipe, an extremely rare and desperate situation that rarely ends happily.

Choke can be caused by gluttonous bolting of feed, excessively dry rations or ingestion of an unchewed object, such as a chunk of carrot, apple or wood. A horse suffering from choke makes repeated gulping efforts to swallow, oozes alarming amounts of saliva mixed with food from his nose and appears somewhat distressed.

If you suspect that ha horse has a blocked esophagus, tie him away from food and water, allowing him enough rope to lower his head. Then call the veterinarian. If the obstruction has not dissolved before the veterinarian arrives, he may administer small amounts of lubricants to help the stubborn mass pass to the stomach. He may also administer antibiotics to prevent infection. When allowed to continue for several hours or when saliva, food or other foreign matter leaks into the horse’s lungs, choke can cause serious complications; when treated promptly it usually has little lasting effect.

An airway obstruction responsible for choking usually arises from an inflammatory disease, allergic reaction or trauma, such as a kick to the throat. A choking horse will make an audible snoring sound as he strains to get air into his lungs; he may become increasingly frantic or “crazed” with the sense of suffocation, or asphyxia. Call the veterinarian immediately; minutes can make the difference in the horse’s chances of survival. A swift, powerful kick in the belly, just behind the ribs, may force enough air back up the trachea to dislodge an object, but that Heimlich maneuver for horses won’t work in cases of disease, allergy or trauma. Usually the only real chance a choking horse has for survival is an immediate tracheotomy (cutting into the windpipe to allow air to enter below the obstruction), followed by manipulation or surgery to clear the airway.

This article is from EQUUS Magazine, Issue 211 (May 1995), copyright 1995 by PRIMEDIA Enthusiast Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.