Choke in Horses: Hemi’s Story

Hemi is a senior horse and very stoic, independent, and calm. We adopted him a year ago from the animal rescue group True-Blue. He is a beloved family member that everybody adores.

He has terrific feet, a beautiful long, flowing mane and tail, and a compact, chunky body that holds weight well. However, Hemi came to us with a past filled with trauma to his head and jaw which left him unable to close his mouth all the way or chew properly. Because of this trauma, Hemi is prone to equine choke. 

What is Choke?

  • A condition in which an object becomes lodged in the horse’s throat or esophagus;
  • usually a food object such as a hay that has not been fully chewed or grain that the horse is unable to chew properly. It can also be a bag or small toy;
  • choke can occur in any age horse but is prevalent in senior horses and horses with poor dental health;
  • it can be deadly to your horse.

Signs of choke

  • Extending its neck in an exaggerated motion toward the ground and attempting to cough;
  • may become uncharacteristically lethargic and inactive and refuse food or drink;
  • drool – either foamy or undigested food depending on the object causing the obstruction.

What Should You Do?

  • Call your veterinarian immediately
  • Remove any sources of food or drink
  • Run your hand along each side of your horse’s esophagus to try and locate the obstruction. If you suspect hay or feed, you may be able to break up the obstruction by using long, firm strokes of your hand from the throat toward the stomach.
  • If drool is still coming from his nose then he has not cleared the obstruction and you will need to follow through with your vet’s help

How Hemi’s Choke Presented

I knew immediately that he was off when he started doing this:

  • Walked away from his feed pan within moments of starting to eat. He LOVES his food so this was an immediate red flag.
  • Head hanging low and lurching forward to expel the obstruction
  • Globs of sticky saliva flowing from his nostrils
  • Rattling noise in his esophagus
  • Looking very distant and not “present”
  • Not responsive to my voice

How I Handled Hemi’s Choke Episode

  • Took Hemi to another part of the pasture away from Belle who was still eating dinner
  • Gave Hemi Rescue Remedy drops between his cheeks and gum to relax his central nervous system. Repeated this every 10 minutes during the trauma.
  • Started massage on his esophagus
  • Called the vet (we are around the block from our equine hospital) and reported Hemi’s condition. Because they had multiple emergencies going on we continued to communicate by phone every 15 minutes until it was determined that I needed to trailer Hemi in to the hospital

Hemi’s Recovery Process

Hemi spent the night in a dry run-in close to Belle. Since they are pasture buddies this allows Belle to keep an eye on her Uncle Hemi and Hemi to relax somewhat.

Hemi is on half rations today, watered down (even MORE than normal for his mash) to a broth consistency:

  • 1 small scoop of low starch feed;
  • 3 Skode’s After Care cookies (soaked to mush) to offset the small amount of medication given at the equine hospital that just about knocked his socks off;
  • 3 Skode’s Meadow Bars (soaked) to provide extra nutrition that he would typically get foraging but is unable to while he is penned up;
  • 1 Skode’s Energy Bar (soaked) to give him superfoods such as spirulina and coconut pulp
  • 5 Standlee alfalfa/timothy mini cubes, soaked to a “tea” consistency

Frequent checks – I’m watching his water intake and output to see when normal body functions are regulating. He is allowed 2 hours of grazing this evening per the vet.

Hemi’s now 12 hours out of his episode with choke. He’s not quite back to his old self, but is resting comfortably with Belle close by so he feels like he’s still on duty. His future feedings will now be SUPER mash just to make sure he has enough liquid to process his food. I never want to see this majestic gelding choke again, but I will be prepared and provide preventative care in the hopes of preventing such trauma in the future.

Hemi, you are loved, loving, and lovable you huggable old man. xo

~ Dr. Cassie, July 2012

Wellness Ranch


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