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We all understand that people choke as a result of the windpipe being blocked, but not many people know that horses can choke too.

Choke in horses happens when the oesophagus, the muscular tube that carries food from the mouth to the stomach, gets blocked.

It can be distressing to see a horse with choke, so it is a good idea to be aware of the condition so that you know what to do if it happens to yours.


Signs to Look Out For

  • Green, often frothy, discharge coming from the nostrils. The discharge may contain food material;

  • The horse holding their head outstretched;

  • Anxious behaviour from the horse;

  • Coughing;

  • Appearing to try to swallow;

  • You may see swelling in the left side of the neck where the obstruction is.



  • Incorrectly soaked feed, such as sugar beet pulp;

  • Dental problems, meaning that food cannot be chewed correctly;

  • Bolting of feed, especially hard feed;

  • Carrots, apples etc being eaten too quickly or fed in pieces that are too large;

  • A foreign body e.g. a non-normal food item being ingested.



Choke is an emergency, so your vet needs to be contacted straight away. If choke is not treated quickly it can lead to complications such as aspiration pneumonia or an oesophageal stricture.

Your vet will likely sedate your horse to reduce any anxiety and also to lower the head in order to reduce the risk of inhaling food and saliva. Your vet may then use anti-spasmodic drugs.

A nasogastric tube might also be required to move the obstruction.

Most chokes are resolved in this way. Occasionally, further investigation may be needed, but your vet will guide you on this.



Any horse can choke and it’s something that you may not always be able to prevent. However, there are some things which may be useful to know to reduce the risk:

  • Keep dental checks regular so that teeth are well looked after;

  • Make sure your horse doesn’t have access to any foreign bodies that may be ingested;

  • Provide food that is easy to chew, this may require adding water to hard feed or soaking hay;

  • Make sure any hard feeds, such as sugar beet, are soaked correctly before feeding;

  • Try to prevent your horse from bolting any food. This may mean using horse feed balls or hay nets with small holes etc;

  • Feed smaller meals more often if food bolting is a major issue;

  • Provide plenty of fresh water;

  • Feed low at ground level;

  • Break down treats, including apples and carrots, into pieces no larger than your thumb as these are less likely to get stuck;


Although choke can be a serious condition, it is one that is usually dealt with easily.

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