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Understanding choke in horses

Unlike choking in people (where the trachea or windpipe is obstructed) however, with choke in horses, the oesophagus (the muscular tube that takes food from the mouth to the stomach) is blocked, usually by food material. Although the horse is still able to breathe, it is unable to swallow and it does not pose an immediate threat to life. It is however distressing to both horse and owner.


Horses that are “choking” often hold their head outstretched, look anxious and may cough, retch or make gagging noises, there will usually be frothy fluid coming from the nostrils, which is often green or brown,  because saliva produced by the horse cannot be swallowed due to the blockage, it therefore builds up and comes out of the nostrils and mouth. It's stained green or brown due to feed material in the oesophagus and mouth.

 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 his mouth around it to slow down his eating