Has your horse ever choked? Mine did, last night…

Today I am manning my garage sale for the 2nd day.  The first day nearly sucked the life outta me (I will write about it…) and I didn’t have the brainpower to write anything last night.  So, I decided to paw through the archives to find something old but good.

I found this post on Equine Choke.  I remember this night, clearly.   So, I figure if it is still on my brain a few years later, it would probably help a few of you in your hours of need – hopefully.

(Kisses to Aladdin who now whispers in my ear from above.)


Oy.  Have you ever seen a horse choke?  Or, have you seen a horse exhibiting the “choking syndrome“?  Well, let’s hope it never happens to you.  I’ve gotta tell you, feeling helpless is putting it too lightly.  Basically, your horse is choking and there is nothing you can do.  The horse gets something caught in it’s throat, he cannot throw up, so he just coughs and chokes himself until it dislodges, or it doesn’t…  And, the really comforting thought is that if they make it through the choke, they can still succumb to equine pneumonia from aspirating a particle into the lung.

OK, this is what happened to me tonight.  So, if it happens to you, remember this and maybe it will help.

I feel this event was totally created by me being brainless in a moment.  You see, 20 year-old Aladdin (yes, the same horse that was in Intensive Care for 9 weeks) gets Senior feed plus grass hay.  He has never had a problem eating, his teeth are great and I only feed him Senior because of the content.  Anyway, in a brainless move, I decided to mix a new type of pellet in with his Senior.  I thought, “Hey, he’d like this, why don’t I give him some of the new stuff.  I’ll just mix it into his grain.”  Except the new stuff was the pellet size of a Milk Dud, whereas the Senior is the size of a Red Hot. Alas, my huge error.

Aladdin chomped into his Senior and didn’t realize there were bigger bits in there.  He started choking.  Although he is a very dramatic gelding anyway, this was serious.  His eyes were rolling, he was coughing, choking, pawing and staggering.  I HAD NO IDEA WHAT TO DO.  It isn’t as if you can perform the heimlich on him.  I was dumbstruck and terrified.  What have I done?!

I tried to massage his throat and he pulled away and staggered into his bedroom (his stall), coughing the entire time.  Once in his stall, he put his butt into the wall and started sucking air through his nose with his nostrils actually flat against his lip as he gasped for air.  His lower lip was trembling and he looked very worried.  His sides were heaving as he struggled.  I thought he was going to pass out – which they say can help if they don’t fall badly.  If they pass out, they relax and this can help the item pass.

I ran to the house to get the phone (another bad thing — not having a cordless in the barn) and I called the vet.  He said that he was at a colic and could be there in a few hours. Uhhhh.  I asked what to do.  He said that if he was going to suffocate from this, he would already be dead.  What was important now was to keep him calm and still.  No food.  Fresh water.

Signs to look for:  They usually foam at the nostril and mouth.  This is the junk dissolving and coming up because he cannot swallow (so a good thing).  They usually try to swallow a lot.  This can create a sore throat.  The best thing is for the muscles of the throat to relax so they quit clenching on the thing that is most likely trying to dissolve.

What the Vet will do:  The vet will give the horse a sedative so that he relaxes his throat.  Then, he will tube the horse gently to dislodge the item, being careful so that the horse doesn’t breath the item back in.  Generally, the outcome is good.  However, it is really important to watch the horse to make sure he didn’t aspirate anything.  So, you need to take his temp three times a day and check his heart rate often the first few days to make sure he doesn’t develop pneumonia.

What happened to Aladdin…  Well, he stood, rock still, in his stall and acted like he was really scared as he sucked any air possible.  I ran to the Internet and checked everything that I could do.  Basically it said that there was nothing one can do but call the vet, immediately. This was serious stuff.  I went back to check on him in a half hour and he was the same.  An hour later, he greeted me at the stall door and asked for dinner. He must have relaxed enough for the chunk to go down.  I called the vet and told him to stand down for now.  I asked what to do and he said to do what I described above.  So far, no temp.

I’m not supposed to feed him tonight until his throat irritation calms down.  So, I wet down some beet pulp and Senior for a big breakfast tomorrow.  Wet food only for the next few days.  I will take his temp religiously and check his heart.

So, what I say to you… don’t change up feed and mix big chunks with little chunks.  But, choke can happen no matter, especially with food bolters and older horses.  With older horses, you wet the feed.  With bolters, you add rocks to their grain.  Just remember, if this happens, you can massage the neck, but you should really just run and call the vet.  Then, wait to see if it passes, and then monitor the heck out of the situation to make sure no pneumonia develops.

Above all, to keep calm, just remember what I thought to myself as I was running up to the house… “How often does this happen when I’m not around…”.  I bet it does.  So, while you are feeling helpless, think of that as you run through your paces.  Most likely, he’ll figure it out.  However, it is serious so CALL THE VET and watch him like a hawk —  hopefully, you and your horse will be OK.


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7 comments have been posted...

  1. tammy pipkin

    My horse has chocked twice one on grass and second was a few days ago on pellet feed was able to get it dissolve on our own. We brought her to water hose and ran water down her throat and within seconds she was wanting grass and wanting the rest of feed. This is the worst that u can witness with ur horse helpless feeling

  2. dawndi Post author

    I am so very sorry, Linda.
    He knew he was loved. You did your best. He will live on – every time you think of him, he will come to you.

  3. Linda

    Saturday night I lost my lovely LeRoy. He was actually choking on his tongue. I gave him his night treat of a handful of grain and went into the house. Heard a crash and 10 minutes he was gone. Now I remember not seeing his tongue. He was 30 years old and in very good health. He looked and acted like a 10 year old.

    Years back a vet pulled all of his teeth on one side and he and I have had to make adjustments. I was told by the person that floats his teeth that this tragedy could happen. We have kept him going for a very long time. The grain was dry and I feel he was trying to move it around. I cannot describe the 10 minutes of terror. I have just now figured out what happened. I felt so helpless. Now I would have reached into his mouth and pulled his tongue. Although there was no foam or anything coming out of his nostrils and he died in about 10 minutes. I am devastated.

  4. horse care courses

    We have a horse that regularly manages to get choke, fortunately he resolves it himself within a short time. We help him out by rubbing his throat and walking him round until he has managed to dislodge the feed and is feeling more himself, ie. ready to start eating again!

  5. Mikey

    I’m so glad your horse is ok, and I’m glad you posted this. I’ve been a little lax with fully wetting down my donkey’s food, and I saw big chunks left this morning. I’d be scared to death if this happened, but at least now I know what to do. I wonder if Banamine would relax a horse enough, or if the vet gives something like Ace? I’ll be asking my vet that question. I imagine it would be hard to give a sedative into a vein with a horse actively choking. Very scary.

  6. Amey

    I had this happen to my horse last night! its the most scary thing you have to witness. My horse cody is a fast eater. i was running a little late last night on feeding and his excited anticipation on grain, he choked. He walked to the back of the barn in the padlock where i couldnt see him and i went out back and opened the stall for him to get a closer look on why he abandoned his grain. as soon as he was in his stall he started retching and gagging. munched up grain was coming from his nostrils and he would stretch his neck out and down and lifted his upper lip. I immediately called my sister who went for vet tech and she had me call our friend danielle, whom works with a horse vet. I took away his feed bucket and the hay and waited for danielle to show up. it seemed like forever that he started to calm down a bit and he went for his hay. i gave him a little and he was good for about 15 minutes so i figure i would hand feed a little grain. he got 2 pinches in and he started again! this time it wasnt as bad but he was making a really weird smoosh/squishy sound in his throat and lifted his upper lip. When danielle got there she felt his throat for obstruction and told me that a horse can be in a choke for 4-5 days! so she instructed me to keep his grain really wet, almost soupy, and to watch him while he eats. she said his throat was probably sore from dislodging and from now on to put blocks in thier grain to force them to eat slowly. This morning i hand fed him soupy grain and tuffs of hay. So far so good. :)

  7. Jenneral

    The best way to prevent choke is to use a high quality feeder that is designed to prevent choke and prevent colic (including sand colic). There is a product called Pre-Vent Feeder that has been designed for horses that suffer from choke, colic and sand-colic. I just recently found out about this feeder and love it. The web site where you can purchase it or locate a store that sells it is http://www.pre-ventfeeders.com/

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