Signs of Choking in Your Horse

Is Your Horse Choking?

What you see:  After eating, food material and saliva are coming from your horses nostrils.  He/she is anxious and uncomfortable. This is shown by coughing, head shaking, stretching out the neck, chewing, pacing.

What it is:  An obstruction of the esophagus, usually with feed material.  This is different than a human choking which is an obstruction of the trachea.  A horse with choke can still breathe. So while this is a an urgent situation, the airway is not blocked and the horse can still breathe.. There is no urgent, life-saving need to resolve the choke.

Causes: Eating too quickly, trying to swallow a large piece of feed - carrot, apple, corn cob, not enough chewing due to poor teeth, eating while sedated, malformation of the esophagus.

What to do

Remove all feed and water, do not allow the horse to graze. Encourage him to stand quietly with his head down. CALL THE CLINIC AT 770-252-6860. Sedation may be recommend until a veterinarian can examine the horse.  Monitor the amount of discharge coming from the horse's nostrils. If the discharge stops, he may have cleared the choke on his own.


Most chokes are mild and may clear with time.  Sedation can relieve the esophageal spasm that accompanies choke and allow food to pass from the esophagus to the stomach.  If extra treatment is required, a veterinarian can pass a stomach tube into the esophagus and lavage the feed material with water.


The esophagus is often irritated and inflamed after a severe choke.  Anti-inflammatories are often used to decrease the pain and resulting inflammation. Withholding food for 24 hours will help the esophagus heal and prevent re-choking. Pneumonia due to food being inhaled into the lungs can occur after a prolonged choke. Monitor for any signs of nasal discharge and monitor the temperature. A temperature greater than 101.5 can indicate a problem. Call the clinic if this occurs.

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