Oesophageal obstruction or choke is a condition describing, in most cases an impaction of the oesophagus with food material which results in a dysphagia.


The most common cause of choke are primary impactions by roughage, coarse grass hay, leafy hay, bedding and even grass. Gulping food may also potentiate choke, especially if the horse is exhausted or mildly dehydrated after a long ride or is weakened from chronic debilitation. Foreign bodies, tumours or congenital anomalies can cause so-called secondary impactions. Megaoesophagus is another condition that can narrow the oesophagus and is commonly seen with some breeds such as Friesian horses.  

Clinical signs and diagnosis

Horses with oesophageal obstruction are often anxious and stand with their neck extended. These horses may gag or retch, especially if the obstruction is in the upper portion of the oesophagus. A large lump can also be observed.

Complications of the condition include:

● Dehydration 

● Weight Loss 

● Aspiration Pneumonia 

● Pressure Necrosis

If you believe your horse is choking, contact your vet immediately, remain calm, and walk your horse in-hand. Your Vet may suggest massaging the area while you are waiting for them to arrive. In most incidences of choke, they will self-correct without veterinary intervention. The most used method to determine and localize an obstruction is by passing a nasogastric tube into the oesophagus. A method which should be used only by your veterinary surgeon.


Treatment of the condition is very much tailored to the clinical signs and the findings of the clinical exam. Your veterinarian will use a nasogastric tube, endoscope, ultrasound or radiography combined with sedation and other drugs which can assist with the relaxation of the oesophageal muscles. Additional treatment may also be needed, depending on the severity of the condition and how easily the condition was solved.


It is important to know how to recognise the clinical signs of the condition and contact your vet to seek for an advice. If you are feeding your horse with feed which requires soaking, be sure to soak the feed following the manufacturer’s instructions.

Veterinary advice in this magazine is provided as a general guide Veterinary advice in this magazine is provided as a general guide and you should always seek professional advice.