It's rare but it happens. Unlike choke in humans, which blocks the trachea, your horse can still breathe, because the blockage is in his esophagus. If he is unable to swallow, you may see or feel a bulge in the neck, and he may show signs of distress.
When it does happen, it’s important to keep your horse calm and, if you are comfortable giving IV shots, administer a sedative. The sedative will reduce the involuntary spasms of the esophageal muscles. Often times this, along with an increase in salivation, allows the blockage to pass without further treatment.
If that doesn’t work, get to your veterinarian as soon as possible to avoid complications like a rupture in the esophagus or aspiration pneumonia. Your vet can use a stomach tube to slowly empty the contents of the esophagus (see photo below) and administer antibiotics and pain relievers if needed.
Here are some good tips for preventing a choking incident…
- avoid pellet feeds
- soften alfalfa cubes by soaking in water before feeding
- feed hard treats, including carrots & apples, in bite-sized pieces
- good equine dental care
- lots of fresh clean drinking water 24/7
If you have a dainty, slow eater, these tips will probably be enough. But if you have a horse that “bolts” his food down, you may want to slow him down. Several large rocks added to his feed bucket is an old but effective trick. There are also compartment feeders like the one shown below.
If your horses are like mine, feeding time is their favorite time of day. Keep it safe for them as well with a little prevention.