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Colic, Ulcers and Choke

Colic, Ulcers, and Choke are three of the most common emergencies that horse owners can encounter and they all have to do with the gut, so knowing your horse’s feed habits, environment, and behavior are crucial to identifying these emergencies early.

Colic: In terms of colic, signs include rolling, flank watching, lying down, and more. There are various types of colic that can be identified by seeking the cause, assessing heart rate, respiratory rate, temperature, and listening to gut sounds. Diagnosis and treatment may also require rectal examinations and nasogastric tube usage, a strategy which inserts a tube up the horse’s nose and down into the stomach to assess how full the stomach is. The American Association of Equine Practitioners produced a handy infographic for you to print out and keep in your barn.

While there is no possible way to definitively prevent your horse from getting colic, regular worming, keeping a set routine where feed and management changes are made gradually, feeding off the ground, and limiting your horse’s access to pasture grass are solid starts. 

Ulcers: According to the American Association of Equine Practitioners, up to 90% of racehorses and 60% of show horses will be affected by ulcers at some point in their lifetime. Equine Gastric Ulcers are often a human-made disease. Ulcers are not age-specific, and are rather the result of damage to the lining of the stomach due to acid buildup. 

Stress and inconsistency are large predictors that horses will likely develop ulcers. Horses confined to their stalls for large periods of time, those who are on non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, those with an irregular feeding schedule, and those with high-grain diets are especially at risk of developing them. 

Unfortunately, however, the majority of horses do not show outward symptoms, though poor appetite, poor coat appearance, and colic-like symptoms may be portrayed. The only way to diagnose ulcers is through a gastroscopy, which allows us to see the stomach lining and requires sedation. 

Choke: When food or a foreign substance blocks the horse’s esophagus, choke is always a risk. Most often, choke occurs when a horse swallows food that is too dry or coarse or food that has the potential to expand in the esophagus. 

Thankfully, choke is usually more easily detectable than other issues. Obvious signs of discharge, saliva, and feed running from the nostrils and mouth are common, as well as depression, and difficulty swallowing. Many horses will make a gagging sound when under the influence of choke.

Our treatment includes passing a stomach tube down into the esophagus to identify the structure that is blocking movement and determine how to remove it or get it to pass through. In some cases, this will require administering a sedative which helps to relax the muscles of the esophagus allowing the buildup to pass through. In more extreme cases, the horse may need full sedation while their stomach contents are pumped out. 

Colic, choke, and ulcers are all preventable emergencies whose effects can be greatly reduced through good management. However, they are all considered emergencies, so if you think you are observing their symptoms, we urge you to text or call us at 541-636-1191 as soon as possible.