There's no doubt that horses enjoy their food and if they show no interest in their feed bowls or hay nets, the chances are there is something very wrong with them. When they are out to grass horses keep their heads down most of time constantly grazing with intermittent periods of sleeping whether standing up or lying down. Grass offers horses loads of valuable fibre but there's not a lot of nourishment in grass when you calculate it per mouthful, which is why horses need to eat so much of it!
Horses are also what is known as “flight” animals which means they are always on the look out for predators. In the wild my nature, they tend to eat quite fast and this is one trait a horse has kept as a domestic animal. However, as any horse owner knows, they also like to guard their food and get pretty upset if another horse tries to get a look in, especially if it's a scoop or two of pasture mix.
It is quite natural for horses to form their own hierarchy with each horse knowing it's place within a herd and this translates to horses who share the same paddock. Lower ranking horses have to snatch food and eat it quickly when they can because they know they will be pushed off their food by other horses that have a better ranking than them.
When horses eat too fast just as with other animals and humans, it can cause all sorts of problems one of which is called “choke”. This is a very serious condition to have to deal with and which could prove fatal if the horse is not helped as quickly as possible. Horses can still breath when they are suffering from choke but this doesn't mean the condition is any less serious because their oesophagus could rupture or a muscle might be torn. There's also a risk of some regurgitated food getting back in their mouths which the horse then proceeds to inhale – the result could be a lung infection or worse!
If you notice your horse eats far too fast and you are worried this might bring on choke, there are certain things you can do to slow them down which are listed below:
Horses that experience choke when there's no one around to help them might colic which is something to avoid at all costs. Then there's the risk of their oesophageal tissue becoming necrotic or it could stretch and tear. Choke can prove fatal to horses so it's a condition that should never be taken lightly.
One of the obvious signs that something is wrong is when you see lots of saliva together with feed coming out of your horse's nostrils or mouth and sometimes both. Other signs to watch out for are as follows:
Your horse may be panic-stricken, they will cough and gag like they are trying to clear their throats so it's crucial to call the vet out immediately. A horse with choke might quickly dehydrate and if the oesophagus does rupture, they may even go into shock but luckily this rarely happens – however, you still need to get a vet out straight away so they can treat your horse appropriately.
Most horses will eventually produce enough of their own saliva which lubricates the obstruction so they can swallow and get rid of it. However, vets often give a mild sedative or sometimes a spasmolytic injection which helps relax their throat muscles and this normally works a treat.
However, if the obstruction won't budge, a vet may decide to use a stomach tube and flush the obstruction out. However, your horse would need to be sedated for them to do this safely. If the horse is really panic-stricken, they would need to be anaesthetised so the vet can dislodge the blockage by flushing it out thoroughly without harming the horse or themselves.
Horses that have suffered choke need to be fed sloppy feeds or just be given grass for a few days so any swelling in their throats has a chance to go down. You would need to keep a close eye on your horse and then do everything necessary to slow their eating habits down to lessen the chances of them suffering from choke again. The rule of thumb when you think your horse has choke is to stay calm and get the vet out immediately so they can administer the right treatment.