NZ Horse & Pony - - Ask The Experts -

QI have a seven-year-old geld­ing who I have owned since he was six months. He is calm and healthy and has his teeth done reg­u­larly with no is­sues; how­ever, he suf­fers from choke.

There have been three sep­a­rate oc­ca­sions where a vet has needed to pass a stom­ach tube in to his oe­soph­a­gus to clear the block­age. The episodes have gen­er­ally oc­curred while or af­ter he has been eating hay, even soaked hay or hay­lage.

A few times he has had symp­toms while eating hard feed which have re­solved them­selves with­out vet treat­ment.

I have tried us­ing ‘greedy feeder’ haynets, putting large flat stones in his feed bucket and mak­ing his feeds very sloppy, but am still ner­vous that it’s go­ing to hap­pen again. He is not fed hay at all now and I worry when feed­ing him hard feed, but need to sup­ple­ment him dur­ing the win­ter months or he loses con­di­tion. He is pad­docked with oth­ers but at feed time he’s top of the peck­ing or­der so never gets has­sled.

Any sug­ges­tions on what and how I can feed him, or what might be caus­ing these re­cur­ring is­sues would be greatly ap­pre­ci­ated. Freya, via email

Vet Dave replies:

Choke oc­curs when a bo­lus of food be­comes lodged in the oe­soph­a­gus and is un­able to pass through into the stom­ach. This can ei­ther oc­cur when a horse bolts food greed­ily or if they do not chew cor­rectly.

You are en­tirely cor­rect in your ap­proach to slow his eating speed through the use of re­stric­tive hay nets, stones in feed bowls and wet food. Any and all of these and their vari­a­tions on a theme will limit feed­ing speed and/or re­duce the chance of feed get­ting stuck.

Thought you have men­tioned his teeth, it is worth look­ing into this fur­ther. Poor den­ti­tion will re­duce his abil­ity to grind feed into smaller pieces. Aside from this be­ing an es­sen­tial part of the di­ges­tive process, en­sur­ing max­i­mum di­gestibil­ity of any food eaten, smaller food par­ti­cles make a more mal­leable bo­lus which is thus more tractable to swal­low­ing and pass­ing down to the stom­ach.

If he con­tin­ues to choke it would be worth­while pass­ing a scope through his nose into the back of his throat. From here, your vet­eri­nar­ian can ob­serve the struc­tures at the back of the throat, stim­u­late and check a nor­mal swal­low re­flex, and pass down into the oe­soph­a­gus to check that it is nor­mal. Oc­ca­sion­ally a horse may have a di­ver­tic­u­lum in their oe­soph­a­gus which pro­motes the for­ma­tion of a choke: this should be seen with en­doscopy.

Nu­tri­tion­ist Lucy replies:

From a feed point of view, you seem to have tried all the tricks avail­able to slow him down! I would fo­cus on par­ti­cle size – if he is not chew­ing suf­fi­ciently, as it ap­pears, and hence is get­ting block­ages, then feed­ing a finer par­ti­cle diet would be one tac­tic to try. Per­haps a soaked sugar beet shred or sim­i­lar.

You cer­tainly need a fi­bre source go­ing into him to main­tain his hind gut func­tion. Per­haps soaked grass nuts, which have small par­ti­cle size, could help.

I as­sume he is okay with grass? If that is the case then per­haps he will need to only be on grass as his main for­age source, which may be hard to achieve in the win­ter.

An­i­mals who have un­der­gone pe­ri­ods of feed short­age can some­time de­velop bad habits where they eat way too fast. In that case, per­haps feed­ing lit­tle and of­ten ‘may’ re­solve things for him to be more con­fi­dent that food isn’t go­ing to be re­moved for long pe­ri­ods.

How­ever, if his graz­ing is not caus­ing an is­sue, I would fo­cus on that with some backup of a soaked pel­letised hard feed, which will have smaller par­ti­cles that could help re­move a ma­jor cause of the choke. Good luck. ■

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