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What Happens When Horses Eat Too Much

One thing horseís love is to eat. If given the chance horses would do this activity non-stop. This continual grazing is impossible for horses and impractical for us as a result of modern feeding, housing and exercise practices.

As a result we feed the horses twice daily with a concentrated feed. As a result some horses may try to eat as much food as possible during these brief feedings and sometimes they can just eat too fast. This equine gluttony can sometimes result in a case of choke.

The signs of choke in horses are much different from humans since horses can breathe while choked, they just canít swallow. The difference is that in humans the openings to the trachea or windpipe and the esophagus or feeding tube are very close together. Most obstructions for

 humans occur prior to swallowing at the back of the throat which results in a blockage of both pipes.

Horses have much more room in their mouth than a human and most incidents of choke in a horse will happen after they have swallowed the food. This means the obstruction stays only in the esophagus. This tube goes from the back of the horses mouth to their stomach and is constructed of smooth muscle. Food enters the esophagus after being chewed and swallowed. The muscle contractions and relaxations are controlled by a complex set of nerve impulses that help to slowly push or squeeze the chunk of food down the pipe and into the stomach.

Horses will typically choke while eating. Horses will stop eating when this happens and act distressed. The horse may try to swallow while stretching out their neck. Their mouth may frequently open and close. The horseís mouth and nostrils may drip saliva and the saliva may be replaced by a watery green material as the partially dissolved food starts to back up in the nasal passages and mouth of the horse. Horses that are choking may produce a significant amount of saliva and this may be found on the stall floors and walls if the situations are left untreated for a long period of time.

Some horses may tolerate choke better than other horses. Other horses will salivate and cough up food particles while in distress and then may even try to cram more food into their mouths. Some horses may become so stressed, anxious and nervous at the lack of swallowing that they may develop colic secondary to choke.

It is important that you get treatment for your horse no matter how they respond since there are serious consequences to persistent choke. Horses will become dehydrated if they are choked for long periods of time and their body can be robbed of high amounts of electrolytes due to the excessive saliva which can worsen the situation.

Necrosis or death of tissue can result if distention of the esophagus walls occurs from the mass of hard, dry food and this can eventually lead to muscle tearing or the esophagus itself can rupture. You should never feed your horses late since the threat of choke after feeding requires that they be observed for a little bit of time after they have finished eating. A serious situation can result if you put food in their buckets and then leave the barn, especially if a choking horse wonít be found until the next morning.

Horses are at risk of aspiration pneumonia if they are choked for long periods of time which can be a potentially fatal complication. Since horses can breathe while choked they may breathe I some of the food that is contaminated with saliva into their lungs. This food solution is bacteria rich and can cause rapid infection of the horses lungs which leads to pneumonia.

It is best for the horse owner to condition choke as a minor emergency. The food may be allowed to pass by removing all remaining food and trying to get the horse to relax by gently massaging their neck. Remember that you massage must be gentle in order for it to soothe the horse and soften the food mass in their esophagus.

Tranquilization of the horse and the use of a nasogastric tube to soften the food mass is the modern method of veterinary treatment. This is when the veterinarian inserts a tube in the horses nostril and passes it through the sinuses. The tube will go into the esophagus by passing the back of the throat to get to the blockage.

In an attempt to dissolve the packed food the veterinarian will repeatedly flush warm water down the tube and then withdraw it. This method works well for small chokes although for larger cases it may take hours to completely dissolve. It a choke cannot be unblocked by a nasogastric tube then surgery may occasionally be used to relieve the choke.

Researchers have been recently testing the effects that oxytocin can have on horses with choke. Oxytocin is a drug commonly used to help with the muscle tone of a mareís uterus and is commonly given by veterinarians to help the mare expel the placenta post-foaling. The results are encouraging but additional research is being done to find the optimum dosage and how exactly to use the drug.

The Role of Pellets

Choke is often blamed on feeds such as pellets by owners. It is true that pellets require more water to dissolve and can be easily bolted, but choke is more commonly caused by the way in which the horse eats. To keep a horse from gobbling up their food you may want to place two rounded, grapefruit sized rocks in the feed bucket.

Since some horses gobble their food to avoid being pushed away by a dominant stablemate, it may be a good idea to feed these horses individually or in some type of way that doesnít promote bolting.

Horses that bolt their food are not the only ones at risk of choking. Horses can also choke if their esophagus becomes constricted by a tumor, scar tissue or an abnormal out-pouching of the tube itself. Surgical intervention is often required with these conditions. Frequent chokes can also result from poor chewing and eating habits. On a regular basis you should check your horseís teeth and float them if necessary. During feeding it is critical that you let them have access to plenty of fresh water no matter what type of feed you are giving your horse.

Read the next horse nutrition article on Overweight Horse? - Limit Grains.
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