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JC Dill
JC Dill, AFA Certified Farrier Equine expert
Category: Pet
Satisfied Customers: 875
Experience:  Horse and pet owner for over 30 years, experienced caring for many different types of animals.
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horse: eats he shakes his head and ball travel..windpipe

Resolved Question:

Hi, when my horse eats he shakes his head and looks like he has difficulty swallowing. today for the first time, when he swallowed his food I saw a lump about the size of a tennis ball travel down what I think was his larynx, on the near side of his windpipe. Everytime he swallowed I saw the lump travel down I have never seen this before in any horse. I have noticed he has been putting his head down and giving a few big coughs but has always blown out after. He is 14 and I have had him since he was 5 I did 2 seasons jumping with him and after that I would ride him on and off. If you need any more info please just ask. Hope you can help.
Submitted: 8 years ago.
Category: Pet
Expert:  JC Dill replied 8 years ago.
Hello skelly,

We can help with this, but first we need more information:

1) When you saw this problem, what was he eating? Hay, pellets, cubes, grain, grass (pasture)?

2) When was your horse last seen by a vet?

3) What is his living environment (stall, pasture, etc.)?

4) Where are you located?

Customer: replied 8 years ago.
Hi, He was eating he normal feed, coarse mix, oats, grass nuts and cool mix. he was seen by a vet about 3 months ago. He is in at night and out during the day. I am located in Ireland.
Expert:  JC Dill replied 8 years ago.
Hello again,

Based on your description of the events and what you were feeding, it sounds like your horse has a tendency to bolt his feed, and what you saw was a "choke" - a large lump of feed passing down his esophagus that he managed to swallow without actually choking on it. Here are some things you can try to help prevent an actual choke from occuring:

1) Have the vet check his teeth. If he his teeth were floated 3 months ago they may be fine, *or* the vet may have overlooked problems on the very back molars. I've had horses that were "just floated" that still had hooks on the rearmost molars.

2) Eliminate or greatly reduce the amount of non-hay feed you give to him. Most horses don't need any grain or nuts at all - they can maintain their weight just fine on hay as long as they are offered enough good quality grass hay (and pasture). Grain was necessary in the days when horses worked hard for a living - plowing fields or pulling heavy loads for 40-80 hours a week. Those horses could not maintain their weight by eating hay alone.

However grain is NOT a natural diet for horses. Feeding grain is a primary cause for many problems such as ulcers and colic. (Colic is the #1 killer of horses.) Horses who are fed no grain have far fewer digestive problems, fewer colics, fewer chokes, etc. Because of the relatively light work-load for riding horses today, they do not need anywhere near as many calories, and most can easily get all their caloric needs from hay or non-grain supplements (hay pellets, beet pulp, etc.).

3) Use a feeder that slows him down so he can't bolt his food. There are many options for this. Some people put large smooth stones in the horse's feed bucket so the horse has to nose around between the stones to get the feed. This keeps the horse from being able to easily gobble down large mouthfuls that can lead to choke. Another method is to put the feed into a special feeder ball with a few small holes and put the ball into a large feeder (a 100 gallon water tank works well for this). The horse noses the ball around and small amounts of grain fall out of the holes. It takes a lot longer for the horse to work all the feed out of the ball. This greatly improves digestion too, as the feed is consumed more slowly.

4) Add water to the feed, to soak and soften pellets and nuts, and make the feed into a mash. Mashes are far less likely to cause choke than dried feed.

5) Feed hay first, and only offer grain or other hard feed after the horse has had at least 10 minute to start in on the hay. This helps reduce the "hunger" urge to eat quickly, as well as being better for digestion.

Here is a link with more information:

Treating Choke in Horses

If his symptoms persist you need to have the vet examine his esophagus. The vet can use an endoscope to see if your horse has damaged his esophagus with prior (unseen) episodes of choke, or if he has some other problem that is causing an obstruction in his esophagus.

If you need more information please use "reply".

Good luck!

Customer: replied 8 years ago.
Reply to JC Dill's Post: Hi, these symptoms have been going on for about 3 or 4 months I didnt think it was possible for choke to last this long? I had the vet out today he said to take him off nuts and just feed him coarse mix. i thought he would have scooped him or something, to be honest i dont think he knew what it was and was just guessing. do you have any suggestions of what i should ask him to do? Is it possible he will always have this?
Expert:  JC Dill replied 8 years ago.
Hello again,

Did you mention "choke" to your vet?

Did your vet see the symptoms?

Did you ask your vet about scoping him?

My suggestion is that you have the vet scope him - once the vet sees what the inside of your horse's throat and esophagus looks like, he will have a much better idea what this is.

If you are near a vet school, you may want to take your horse to the school for the exam. Local vets get very few rare or odd cases, but vet schools see many rare and odd cases. So for something unusual, the vet school is far more likely to have seen it before, to have more experience with the unusual problems.

You can read about my experience with taking my horse to UC Davis. My local vet (with 20+ years experience) had never seen her problem before and his initial diagnosis was inaccurate (although it was a good guess given what he knew at the time, since he hadn't scoped her). The exam at UC Davis cost a small fraction of what I would have paid for the same services locally as my local clinic is VERY expensive.

Good luck!


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