STEVE: Well choke in a horse usually occurs when they have had a long period of time away from both water and feed. The most typical presentation that I get is that it’s a horse that’s gone and taken a large bolus of a dry matter or hay in particular and has tried to ingest a large amount of it.

What happens is because they’re slightly dehydrated systemically and the mucus membranes of the back of the recesses of their throat are somewhat dehydrated and dry, this dry matter essentially balls up in that area. What they do is they tend to produce a lot of saliva in order to try to lubricate this area up. Being that they’re slightly dehydrated, it’s not such a good thing.

The next thing they do is they try to get some water in. Well they can’t absorb or swallow the water because of the obstruction with the choke matter which usually is dry hay and sometimes feed on top of hay. The typical presentation that I get called in for is a horse that now has his head down, that basically has food matter coming out his nostrils and draining down and sometimes out of his mouth as well. More commonly it comes out of their nostrils.

I’ve seen a number of these cases. What we do is, I will go ahead and sometimes, because these horses get a little frantic because of the area that it’s located, right back there next to their airway. The epiglottis normally closes off the airway to where they don’t contaminate the airway. But unfortunately they’ve still got to breathe simultaneously with this matter coming out.

I’ll tranquilize them and go ahead and pass a stomach tube up into that area and try to hydrate that bolus of dry matter to try to get it to soften up a bit so it can move on down. What we will do is we’ll see if we can’t get that obstruction cleared right away and then right away we’ll get them drinking water to get themselves hydrated.

It’s typical for a horse, I’ve seen it more commonly in race horses because that’s what I do all the time, but a horse that was drawn off water, raced and then it didn’t get enough water, didn’t get re-hydrated enough during the cooling out process and then they brought him back to the barn. Essentially they put him in there with a big bunch of hay in his stall and feed. All of a sudden he just goes and starts ravishing the hay and feed and gets it all compacted into a dry throat.

This can be a life threatening situation because they can have an aspiration pneumonia from it. The bigger problem that you can have is that it can cause a tremendous dilation and overstretching of the esophagus and create a large saccule in their esophagus where they lose the muscle tone. That can be a chronic problem from then on.

The biggest problem you have is down the road after you get this area fixed. The problem is that because you’ve overstretched it now it constricts down and has a stricture there. Then you have a complicated problem on top of the problem. It gets to be a situation that’s easily repeatable from then on. So you’ve got to be super careful about how you feed your horse from then on. For awhile you have to feed them a gruel, sometimes a mash which is a feed with a lot of water added to it so it can be swallowed, until this situation subsides. You’ve got to be careful about the amount of roughage or hay they bring in for awhile.

ALEX: Is there a possibility that a horse that has bad teeth could lead to them choking because they can’t chew up hay matter and such?

STEVE: In older horses that’s not unusual or horses that have a lot of dental problems. You can see that they’ll get a large amount of dry matter. They do not masticate or chew it up the way they should. Normally what they do is if they’re hydrated well and healthy they’ll get a lot of saliva mixed with it. And they’ll drink. A lot of horses are dunkers, we call them dunkers. They’ll take their hay, put it in some water and chew it up while they’re doing it so it passes down easily. But a lot of time what ends up happening is they just don’t do that and their teeth aren’t working the way they should.

It’s a prime example of having a completely healthy horse. You want to check their teeth as well to make sure that they arcades are complete. You don’t have maybe one of them overriding or if you had a tooth missing that one of the molars grew up into the space of the one above or below the one that got taken out. Typically the upper molars are the ones getting knocked out or taken out. The lowers can grow into it and then they can’t masticate properly. So they take in big boluses and they try to swallow it without chewing it up good. So there’s your problem in a nutshell.

If a horse has a history of choke you probably have to manage his diet from then on because usually it’s had more than one episode as a rule. What that indicates is that you probably have some esophageal dilation or a pocket there. It’s probably going to be pretty disposed to having that occur from then on.

Diet change is probably the best way to manage it. If you’re going to go ahead and feed them a certain type of diet with a lot of roughage, beet pulp, this sort of thing, make sure you get it in a mash or where it has water added to it. They usually are fed on the ground so they have to basically slop up the mash and take up the water. It keeps everything pretty much lubricated and hydrated to where it can pass through the area much, much easier.

As far as managing with roughage from then on, you’re better off going with hays that can be wet and chopped up pretty good or grasses. They usually don’t have a problem grazing, but as a rule if you’re going to give hay in the stall you probably might want to go with maybe alfalfa cubes and wet them thoroughly before a horse eats them to make sure you don’t have a problem getting in his stricture area anymore.