When your horse is choking, you feel the urge to help immediately. I completely understand! He is coughing, hacking, yacking, drooling and other horrifying sounds.
However, often times they are not in immediate danger, and you must NOT make a serious mistake that will put them at risk.
I completely understand, the statement above sounds counter-intuitive. Why? because we have been trained to treat choke ASAP, it is dangerous and life-threatening. However, this is true when a human chokes but not when your horse chokes. Therefore, you must understand what is really happening when your horse “chokes” and is making the coughing, retch, yacking sound and looks miserable.
Inside the Horse Choke
What is actually happening when your horse chokes?
This term “choke” does, in fact, refer to the blockage of the esophagus with food, but not the windpipe! When a human chokes, the blockage is in the windpipe and we cannot breathe. Your horse isn’t going to pass out from lack of oxygen, no matter how long the blockage remains. They can still breathe! Whew!
The esophagus lies above the trachea (airway), and when the horse swallows his chewed food the tracheae is closed with muscles and cartilages and the esophagus opens for the food to pass. These prevent food from entering the trachea.
So, it is an esophageal obstruction, not an airway (tracheal) obstruction. Thus, the Heimlich maneuver will not do us much help with our horse, but I’ll walk through some do’s and don’ts when your horse chokes.
FUN FACT: your horse does not have the ability to vomit.
What NOT to do
Nonetheless, you are going to want to do something to help a choking horse, that is completely understandable. The wrong action can turn this minor situation into a serious danger risk.
01 Don’t; Try to “Flush” it Out
Overcome the instinct to use a syringe or hose with water. Many owners have this initial instinct to squirt the water into the horse’s mouth to help “wash” or “flush” the blockage. This will not help and can make the situation much worse!
How? Let’s say the horse pulls his head back or up…very likely scenario.
What is likely to happen?
The food, saliva and now lots of water may end up going down into his airway and into the lungs. This fluid in his lungs can lead to pneumonia and other potentially serious complications.
02 Don’t; Allow the Horse to Continuing Eating & Drinking
Similarly, you want to prevent your horse from consuming anything else. If the horse continues to eat or tries to drink this can worsen the problem. Remove all food and water because some choking horses may attempt to continue eating and drinking.
03 Don’t; Administer Medications
Again, you cannot give the choking horse anything that will help the situation. So, please please do not administer medications or home remedies. Even rubbing the horse’s neck may cause injury to the esophagus lining.
What to DO 🙂
01 Do; Call Your Veterinarian
Yes, please do call your Veterinarian, if the situation lasts longer than 30 minutes or use your best judgment. A horse can often clear the blockage on their own.
What your Veterinarian can do? They will often use a hose and water, but the difference is they know what the heck they are doin 😉 The tube will be inserted through the nose and will deliver the water far past the opening of the airway to prevent any entering the lungs.
Also, they flush slowly and gently to break up the food clump little by little. Any excess water will safely pass back out the nose tube, staying safely away from the airway.
02 Do; Remove Feed & Keep Horse Calm
Encourage your horse to stand quietly with his head lowered if you can. Remove them from any herd situation or a hectic environment.
As mentioned above, remove all hay, feed, and water or access to grazing.
03 Do; Monitor the Situation
Take note! Monitor the amount and details of any discharge from the nose. See if it has any bits of food, the color, consistency, and volume.
Jot this down. It is valuable information for the Veterinarian. Taking photos with your cell phone is also a good idea.
I like to take note of how often they make a cough or hacking sound too. This is helpful of course to identify if the obstruction is decreasing and breaking up. If your horse can begin to produce and swallow saliva, this means the esophageal muscle is relaxing and the blockage is passing.
If you see blood…call again and update the Veterinarian. Or call them ASAP if you haven’t yet.
As a Wrap-Up…
Alright, so now you have a better idea of what happens when a horse is choking aka “esophageal obstruction”. Don’t panic, but take action, the correct action! 🙂
Hope you enjoyed this post! Please share with your horsey-friends so all horses can stay safe during a choking occurrence.