Mouth blockage in horses - immediate help counts!

Many diseases require rapid action by the owner and veterinarian. Mouth blockage is one of these emergencies and you should not wait.

In fact, this condition is quite common and it is absolutely reasonable for you to be concerned about it. With good prior knowledge you can even avoid the equine disease on the one hand, and on the other hand recognise its symptoms well in an emergency, in order to then initiate the right measures as quickly as possible.

First aid can really save the horse's life!

What exactly is pharyngeal obstruction?

Definition: The animal's oesophagus is partially or even completely blocked by one or more foreign bodies (usually food). It occurs mainly during or shortly after feeding.

How can you recognise pharyngeal obstruction in horses?

Typical symptoms:

- Heavy salivation (sometimes gushing)

- Hyperextended neck-head posture (also stretching downwards)

- Neck area contracts again and again with cramps

- Animal tries to get rid of the foreign body by coughing

- Reflux of food residues from the nostrils

- swelling of the neck may be seen or palpated

- increased or heavy breathing

- sweaty coat

- restlessness or nervousness

- Possibly pawing

- the horse may panic

Depending on where exactly the blockage is in the oesophagus, the first signs of symptoms will appear. If the blockage is just before the stomach, the animal will continue to eat until the tube is full of food. Only then does it react with strong salivation.

If the blockage is above the throat, the symptoms appear after a very short time.

What are the causes of pharyngeal blockage in horses?

The most common cause of this equine disease is hastily eaten feed. Especially concentrated feed (pelleted), bread, small cut apples, carrots and beetroot and even small apples (whole) are usually greedily devoured. This is even more noticeable when, for example, conspecifics are in close proximity. Feed envy often plays a role or improper feeding by passers-by over the fence.

Furthermore, the wrong intake of feed is a big issue. If hay cobs and beet pulp are not carefully soaked before feeding, this can quickly have nasty consequences. So be careful with sticky, floury or pressed feeds! Many swell enormously and are a great danger for the four-legged friend. Short-necked hay is also not ideal and can cause problems.

In fact, there are still horses that can unfortunately get a blockage of the oesophagus due to illness. This can be caused by a narrowing of the gullet or a so-called protrusion (recognisable, for example, when the stomach is examined in an equine clinic).

Likewise, dental problems (e.g. during the change of teeth or in old age) can promote pharyngeal obstruction in horses.

What can I do as an owner?

If you notice a pharyngeal blockage in your horse, your first aid counts - inform your veterinarian or the nearby equine clinic immediately!
Because: If not treated promptly, injuries in the oesophagus can be the result. The irritation inside is enormous. In addition, saliva or food can get into the respiratory tract, which can lead to serious pneumonia. Not nice when one equine disease takes over from another. Therefore, first aid must be given to the horse immediately!

Your horse must not take in any more food or water!

If your animal allows it, you can try to relieve the blockage by massaging the throat downwards (not towards the mouth!). If possible, stretch his head downwards. Do not move the animal unnecessarily and do not put fingers in the horse's mouth (horses cannot vomit!).

If it reacts very nervously or even panically, do not put yourself in danger! Wait until the vet arrives! The vet will have the necessary sedatives at hand.

What does the vet or equine clinic do?

When the veterinarian arrives, his first aid will immediately be a calming, antispasmodic agent that he administers to the animal. The muscles can now relax. Mild pharyngeal obstructions will already be relieved. If this is not the case, rinsing with water will help. This is where the nasopharyngeal probe comes in. The probe is advanced to the site of the food blockage in order to get rid of it as quickly as possible.

Aftercare for pharyngeal obstruction

If your first aid was able to help the horse quickly, it is important to relieve the irritated or injured oesophagus. In most cases, only water is offered in the beginning and slowly, over a few days, the horse is introduced to a normal diet. Depending on the severity of the internal injury, pain-relieving medication is also used.

To make sure that it is not due to dental problems, it is recommended to have the teeth checked quickly. In addition, it makes sense to check your horse's temperature again and again over the next few days (normal temperature 37.3 - 38.4 degrees). This way, a new equine disease (pneumonia) can be detected quickly and treated immediately.

Preventive measures against pharyngitis in horses:

- Do not feed undissolved, dry beet pulp, wheat bran or hay cobs. Always soak well!

- Do not chop apples, carrots etc., but also do not feed small apples in one piece.

- In case of feeding envy, separate the animals during feeding.

- Regular dental checks

- If the animals eat too quickly, place large stones in the trough or offer hay nets.

- put a sign in the pastures saying "Please do not feed!

If you take these tips to heart, you can minimise the risk of gullet blockage in horses to a large extent.

Stay fit!