Choke: Oesophageal Obstruction

What is choke?

Choke occurs when material (usually food) is not swallowed properly and blocks the oesophagus/foodpipe

This means that saliva and other food cannot be swallowed

Affected horses may ‘retch’ due to the obstruction in the throat

Food and saliva may be seen draining through the mouth and nostrils

Why do horses choke?

Horses are more likely to choke if:

  • they cannot chew their food properly
    • old horses
    • horses with dental problems
  • feed is too dry
  • they ‘bolt’ their feed
  • carrots/apples etc are eaten whole

Occasionally horses take in non-feed material which gets stuck/cannot be chewed properly


many chokes will spontaneously resolve without any veterinary treatment
if your horse chokes:

  • remove all food from their stall
  • leave water
  • keep them calm

if the obstructed food can be felt externally, gentle massage of the affected area may help

if there is no improvement after 10 minutes, please phone your vet, as a visit may be necessary
your vet can:

  • sedate your horse to relax the animal and muscles of the neck, which often allows the obstructed material to pass
  • pass a tube down the oesophagus to ensure that the blockage has passed OR identify the level of the blockage

Antibiotics may be necessary if food material has been breathed into/inhaled into the lungs


  • regular dental checks and treatment
  • wet feed
  • chopping up apples, carrots etc.
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