Soak Away Choke Worries

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Older horses, horses that don’t get around well and horses with a previous history of choke or colic are at highest risk for choke, but it can happen to any horse. The major factor involved is high intake of dry feed without sufficient drinking.

Choke occurs when food gets caught in the esophagus. The horse isn’t choking, as we know it, as no food is in his airway. However, he may cough and retch.

Heavy salivation is likely, as well as anxiety and a refusal to eat or drink. The symptoms can be mild or acute and frightening. Choke is a veterinary emergency. Unless you saw the horse swallow the food that caused the choke, don’t assume the symptoms are choke. They also resemble rabies.

When choke occurs, dehydration can occur rapidly, and the pressure on the esophagus can cause an ulcer or rupture. Once the esophagus is damaged, resulting in scarring, the recurrence of choke becomes likely.

To prevent choke, the horse must consume adequate amounts of water. Horses prone to choke should be fed wet feeds. Good management changes include:

• Use wet feeds to boost water consumption and ease swallowing and chewing. You can accomplish this by making water more palatable by adding warm water to buckets and troughs but, if you do, be consistent about it or your horse may limit his water consumption to only when you warm the water.

• Monitor the horse’s manure for changes to small, dry balls or any evidence of mucus on the manure.

• Check that the horse’s mouth feels moist, indicating adequate hydration. Skin-pinch checks are difficult under heavy winter coats.

• Add at least one ounce (two tablespoons) of table salt to your horse’s feed every day, even if you think he uses the salt block.

• Be sure the horse has access to a supply of unfrozen, clean water.

• Refill buckets with warm water to delay freezing.

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