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Understanding choke in horses

Unlike choking in people, whereby the trachea gets obstructed, choke in horses involves the oesophagus becoming obstructed instead. It is usually obstructed by food material. Although the horse is still able to breathe, they are unable to swallow which is distressing despite not being immediately life threatening. It is however distressing to both horse and owner.


Horses that are "choking" often hold their head stretched out, look anxious and may cough or retch.  There will often be frothy green/brown material coming out of their nostrils which is made up of food and saliva which cannot be swallowed.

 They often appear to be trying to swallow repeatedly they may be stressed and uncomfortable,and even show mild “colicy” signs


  • Single obstructions for example a potato are rare in horses
  • Mix or nut impactions are much more common 
  • Dried sugar beet is one of the worst

What factors may predispose your horse to choke?

  • Bolting food (greed/competition from other horses)
  • Dry oesophagus/feed too dry.
  • Dental issues –not able to chew food properly
  • Feeding too soon after exercise

First Aid

  • Remove all feed
  • On shavings/mats
  • Allow water access
  • Give 10 minutes to clear
  • Massaging neck - unlikely to help
  • Don’t panic, it's not life threatening
  • Call vet if persists after 10 mins or if distressed


  • Avoid predisposing factors
  • Ensure teeth checked regularly
  • Feed away from other horses
  • Put large rock in the bowl to make the horse work their mouth around it to slow down his eating