Esophageal obstruction, better known as choke, is an occasional cause of sudden discomfort and fear in horses. Choke is usually caused by a bolus or wad of feed material that gets lodged in the esophagus, often as a result of an overzealous appetite. Beet pulp and incompletely chewed hay are often the culprits, but any feed can cause the problem.
Horses typically stretch out their necks, make gasping sounds, and have saliva pouring from their nose and mouth. Some will lay down and appear colicky. Horses who have choked in the past or those that have suffered damage to their throats or necks may be repeatedly susceptible to this problem.
For most horses, the obstruction passes uneventfully in a few minutes. Walking the horse and offering water may be helpful.
For those that don't spontaneously resolve, an emergency call to us is warranted. We typically tranquilize the animal and via a stomach tube are able to break up the blockage. For those of you that own voracious eaters, it is prudent to devise ways to slow down the meal times. Adding salt blocks or bricks to feed tubs is often quite effective.