Choke refers to obstruction of the esophagus preventing passage of food to the stomach. Common causes of choke include:

  • Esophageal strictures which decrease the diameter of the esophagus preventing easy passage of food
  • Ingestion of foreign bodies especially during cribbing
  • Esophageal swellings or tumors
  • Poor dentition therefore food is not broken down to small particles in the mouth
  • Sudden change in diet
  • Feeding dry food which swells up when in contact with moisture in the mouth
  • Eating too quickly or greedy eating


  • Retching
  • Swelling of the neck at the site of the obstruction
  • Drooling or hyper salivation
  • Passage of ingested food and saliva through the nostrils
  • The neck appears out stretched
  • Colic signs
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Anxiety and distress
  • Coughing
  • Sweating

Choking may resolve itself within 10 -15 minutes but in some instances it may progress of which a veterinarian should be contacted. Complications may result in such situations.

  • Inhalation pneumonia: This occurs when food and saliva passed through the nostrils is inhaled into the lungs.
  • Dehydration due to inability to swallow water.
  • Necrosis at the site of obstruction which may lead to rupture of the esophagus
  • Death

Horses should be moved to a quiet stall without any feed material to discourage them from eating. The horse’s neck should also be lowered to allow food to pass out through the nostrils therefore preventing inhalation.


The horse is sedated to keep calm and the neck lowered. A stomach tube is passed through the nostrils to the esophagus and a lavage passed through to dislodge and soften the obstruction. Smooth muscle relaxants may also be administered to stimulate muscles for easier passage of food. In severe cases surgical removal of the obstruction is indicated.

Control and Prevention

  • Horses should have regular dental checkups to enable them to chew food well.
  • Water should be provided at all times
  • Adding large rocks to feed to discourage greedy eating
  • Feed should be cut up into small pieces e.g. apples
  • Pelleted food should be soaked in water prior to feeding
  • Sudden change in diet should be discouraged


  1. Fact Sheet: Choke – Ridings Equine Vets.
  2. Equine Choke: No Heimlich Necessary By Alexis Baney, DVM.
  3. Choke in Horses.