Choke can be caused by dental problems causing the horse to bolt food which has not been properly chewed. Horses with poor teeth can suffer malnutrition and lose weight even with lots of feed and good pasture. They may also become a problem ride as the mouth will be painful and the bit could be rubbing causing discomfort.
It may be as well to check your insurance policy too as some policy providers stipulate that not undertaking preventative dental care on a regular basis can invalidate any future insurance claims.
Grass has to be chewed and ground up many times over in order to break down the tough cell walls before it passes into the stomach, otherwise the nutrients within remain inaccessible and the food will pass out the other end undigested. The teeth of horses (and rabbits!) grow all the time and wear down against each other to keep them effectively the same length; uneven wear for any reason, will allow sharp edges to develop along the molar teeth, which cut into the cheeks and tongue, making chewing uncomfortable, so the horse swallows too soon, the cell walls remain intact in the food and, in addition, not enough time has elapsed to build up sufficient saliva to coat each mouthful, and the bolus of food gets stuck in the oesophagus, causing 'choke' (a veterinary emergency).
The symptoms of choke are a discharge of saliva and food from the nostrils or mouth and the horse will become anxious. Choke can very quickly become lifethreatening. Call us without delay to arrange for a vet to call out as the oesophagus can rupture if the blockage does not clear. If the blockage does clear itself then ideally your horse should be checked over as if any fluid or food has been breathed into the windpipe or lungs an infection can occur which could lead to potentially serious pneumonia.
If you suspect your horse has choke then please contact a veterinary surgeon immediately and arrange a call out. Telephone our receptionists on 01291 672637 to arrange a call out.