How To Care For A Choking Horse

A horse that is coughing, gagging, sweating or pawing and producing a plethora of drool and nasal discharge that has bits of food in it is in trouble: He is choking. Whether the impaction is from feed, hay, a treat or something else, the horse’s neck muscles will spasm and clamp down on the obstruction.

Unlike in humans, a horse that is choking can still breathe, so the problem is not immediately life threatening. Though most chokes will resolve on their own, it’s important to ensure that no serious complications arise.

A horse that is choking for longer than a few minutes warrants a call to the veterinarian. While waiting for the vet to arrive, all hay, feed and water should be removed so the blockage does not become more serious. Encourage the horse to lower his head and stand quietly.

Snapping a few photos of the horse with a cell phone can be helpful as the situation is monitored. If the nasal discharge has food in it, notes should be taken on the volume, color and consistency. If blood or anything other than food is seen draining from the horse’s mouth, it’s important to provide an update to the veterinarian.

Even if the horse clears the blockage on his own, a veterinarian should still look at the horse to determine the cause of the choke. If the choke is serious, the vet may opt to endoscopically examine the esophagus to look for injuries.

Squirting water into a horse’s mouth that is choking increases the risk of aspiration pneumonia. Medications should not be given until a veterinarian prescribes them; permanent damage to the esophageal lining may occur. If the horse develops a cough, runny nose or fever after the he has choked, he may have had fluid or a foreign body in his lungs, causing aspiration pneumonia, which can be fatal.

Read more at EQUUS magazine.

See the AAEP infographic here.

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