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Four Ways to Prevent Choke in HorsesBy Kentucky Equine Research Staff · December 20, 2016

Obstruction of the esophagus by food or other materials is referred to in the equine world as choke. Horses with choke are fairly easy to recognize. The most telling sign is feed material and liquid leaking from the nostrils, and horses may also grind their teeth and salivate excessively. In some cases, an obvious swelling appears on the neck along the esophageal pathway.

“If the esophagus is damaged sufficiently and ulcerates during an episode of choke, then scar tissue can form, causing the internal diameter of the esophagus to decrease. This, in turn, makes horses more susceptible to future episodes of choke,” explained Kathleen Crandell, Ph.D., an equine nutritionist for Kentucky Equine Research.

Feeding horses off the ground to keep the head and neck in a more natural feeding position is the first step in avoiding choke. Consider these other four suggestions by equine nutritionists to help prevent choke, especially in senior horses:

1. Soak feeds in water--lots of water.

Hay cubes, hay pellets and beet pulp, in particular, benefit from soaking before being fed to avoid choke,” advised Crandell. Unlike grass, which is full of moisture, these fiber-rich feedstuffs are dry, and a greedy eater might not take the time to fully chew and moisten them before swallowing.

2. Offer plenty of drinking water.

In addition to watering the feed itself, ensure a choke-prone horse also has clean, fresh water at all times. This is especially important in winter when risk of freezing abounds. Also, do not rely on natural bodies of water as the sole source of water for your horse. Some horses will not drink readily from creeks, streams, or ponds.

3. Slow intake of forage and feed.

Use any means necessary to decrease how quickly a horse consumes its feed. Many haynets featuring small holes to limit intake are available, as are slow-feed “toys” to help horses consume meals more slowly. One simple way to slow consumption is to spread the feed out over a large surface, so horses cannot grab a large mouthful at one time.

4. Reduce competition for resources.

In herd situations, older horses are frequently at the bottom of the pecking order. This means that when they gain access to food and water, they frequently ingest it as quickly as possible before being ousted by more dominant herdmates. Provide multiple buckets for food and water or separate horses at feeding to regulate intake.