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Ask the Nutritionist: Dr. Getty's Forum for Equine Nutrition

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Ask the Nutritionist: Dr. Getty's Forum for Equine Nutrition
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I have a 17 year old mare that suffers from choke. Now, there are periods of time that go by and she eats like nothing is wrong then it'll start. What I do, well...sometimes she prefers the hay wet so that goes on for about two weeks. Then she starts hacking so I change and leave it dry. Again she is okay for a week or two then the hacking starts again so I go back to wetting down the hay. Is there no other possible treatment?

I feed no oats, no grain, no carrots unless grated, no apples unless pureed. The hay. Well I feed one flake alfalfa/grass and one flake with a mixture that contains June grass. again sometimes she is okay with this and other times it drives me crazy trying to figure out how to make it easier for her to eat without choking. The hay is always ground fed in a large rubber bin so there isn't any soil or dirt. There is plenty of fresh cool water. I never just give cold water, always warm to cool in the summer and warm to hot in the winter.

I have had the vet check her teeth twice a year and he is always quite amazed that weight is very good. She is fleshy over the ribs but you can feel them. And of course her teeth are in great shape, no sharp edging no cracks or bits missing. So my question is. What else can I do to make this easier for her?

I have to tell you as well there are times that I think the response here is "sometimes " a learned response to get attention. I know it sounds stupid and even crazy that I might think this but there are times when I walk in the barn in the morning and she has been very quiet( time period of twenty minutes while I take out hay and shake it loose for her and the other horses ) . No hacking, no coughing. Now if I take too long in feeding her first or getting her outside right away she will start coughing for no apparent reason. It amazes me because my husband can be out there and she is quiet and happy enjoying the petting and then I come out and in a few minutes the hacking or coughing will start. Could it be possible that she has also learned that by doing this she'll get a quicker reaction from me because once I have her outside or fed inside she goes back to being quite again.

Also is there anything else I can do because sometimes she is left almost heaving from coughing so much. The vet in question says nothing else can be done unless she is actually choking and turning blue and in that case to call him. Now this sounds unacceptable to me but I have questioned other vets and gotten no more from them either. I can't understand why someone hasn't either come up with a cure or a way to better the quality of life for a horse with choke. I understand that the muscles that carry the food have weakened but there must be something one can do to fix this.

Where are you from? canada

Re: Choke

Hello Barb,

My, my -- what a frustrating situation you have here! No, I don't think that it is a learned response. I think that it is physiological.

You're doing all the right things regarding feeding on the ground and wetting her hay. Three questions --First, does she have water right next to her when eating? Second, does she have a daily supply of salt (she may have a salt lick, but is she licking it?)

And, third, does she have hay to nibble on all throughout the day? The reason I ask is because if she goes for hours without anything to eat, she will have a tendency to bolt down her food too quickly, and hence choke. She needs to be able to relax and know that there is always hay available when she wants it.

If you are already doing these things, you may want to consider a hay replacer -- cubes that you soak ahead of time -- to make her life easier.

Regarding any weakness in her muscle function -- there are supplements that are supportive of this and I'd be happy to recommend something, but I would need to know more about what you're feeding, her medical history, her overall health in other areas, etc. We can certainly visit about this if need be via a phone or email consultation.

Keep me posted!

Dr. Getty

Where are you from? Bayfield, CO

Re: Choke

As for water, yes she has two buckets in the stall when indoors at night and out side there is always fresh, clean, water in two huge containers. I keep hay beside them as well as spread out other piles around the area for the other two horses that are in the paddock with her. So she has a choice of where to eat. I also shake out the hay and try to make sure that when she grabs the hay that it is only small amounts at one time. ( Not always working as she will still tend to grab more then she can handle at times)

Now the other two horses are of no threat and she knows this as she has established herself as the lead mare. The other two will walk away without puttin gup any type of fuss when she heads in their direction.

Salt, yes in the stall hanging up with a mineral block as well. Outside, yes one large brick of salt.

Hay, yes I always put down more then the three can eat. Again in seperate piles so as not to cause an upset. There is always hay left over when I bring them in at night which is around 11 pm.

Now I did try the alfalfa cubes, wetting them down still causes her to choke and on the advice of the vet she only gets hay. When I feed the alfalfa hay I always break up any course stems by hand or cut the stems up into 2-3 inch pieces. Beleive me when I say it is alot of work BUT I do not mind doing it if it means she can get it down without any mishaps.

Her health. I have had a few different vets look at her. Now her overall body condition is excellent and her teeth are as near perfect. No rough edges, none missing, and they line up perfectly. Any visit I have with the vet whether he thinks he doesn't need to check I insist "just" to make sure they do not need to be floated. Other then the choking she is in very good health and the vets are always surprised to she that she has good weight on her considering that she has this problem.

Again her feedings are hay and hay alone. No oats,grain, or any other pellet or cube is given to her. No apples, carrots, or any other type of treat. Though once in awhile I will grate up 4 or 5 carrots but this doesn't happen alotas I feel she is holding at a good weight and is as healthy as a horse. ( pardon the pun lol ) I have found adding anything like this stirs up alot of problems. She gets both mineral & salt licks, and she licks both. Cool water is given never cold and winters, warm water only.

She turned 17 in May. Has had no problems health wise other then the choking which surfaced about 4 years ago and has been an on going problem with her since. Nothing has changed in respect to the other horses being around her, they have always been out together for years.

If there is anything else I have left out that you need to know let me know and I'll post a response.

Thank you for your time and help.
And I am open to any help that will improve and help this mare so I can reduce the problem if not eliminate it. Though I understand that once this starts there is no cure or so I ahve been told by different vets.

Thanks again

Where are you from? canada

Re: Choke

Oh one more know I was wondering if the bacteria in the horses stomach was simular to our stomachs. I have been eating Activia ( yogurt with probiotics )for weeks now and the benefits conceived such as better immune system and a healthier digestive tract. Not only that I was slightly over weight and feeling dragged down. Without reducing my intake of food or changing my diet I was amazed to find that I was still losing weight. And what surprised me most was that it seems to have leveled out and I am maintaining a healthier weight and still able to eat what I want.

My question is can a horse benefit from this in the same way? Would it stablize and improve the intestine tract? Would it help the immune system?

I have to say that my dog actually likes the vanilla flavered one and I am thinking of giving her one half of a serving per day to see if it helps her as well. She is turning 14 this year, needs to lose about 7 lbs. Now she does get treats but I have cut back. It is pretty amazing because she actually prefers eating fruits and vegetables. I asked the vet about eating vegies and fruit and he was fine with that. She will eat watermelon rind and all, cantelope, again rind and all, oranges, apples, carrots, cucumbers, broccoli, beans, and the list goes on. She will even eat a regular salad, ( minus the onions and tomatoes) if I put on a ranch dressing. The vet agreed this too was fine as long as the dressing was Ranch Lite and not the regular. A sfar as dog food goes she is on Orijen which is contains 30% fruit, vegetables and botanicals. 70% inspected meats,(which is derived from human grade meats, chicken, fresh caught Northern Whitefish, and fresh whole eggs.)and 0% grains.

So now if the digestive tracts are simular to ours wouldn't they also benefit from having the Activia as well? what's your opinion on this ?

Where are you from? canada

Re: Choke

Just wondering if anyone has seen Dr. Getty around as I haven't seen any activity here the last few days.

Re: Choke

Yes he responded to my post late last night. It did take awhile tho.

Where are you from? VA

How did you locate this forum? searching

Re: Choke

Hi Barb and Kelly,

Thank you for your patience in my responses. As I indicate at the top of this forum, I may take as much as 7 days to respond. I welcome your questions and ask for your patience in my getting to them.

Talk to you soon!

Dr. Getty

Where are you from? Bayfield, CO

Re: Choke

Yes I saw it but was a little concerned none the less. Thought maybe something was wrong, or happened to the good doctor. Just wanted to make sure everything was okay.

Re: Choke

Hi Barb!

Ah yes, I'm doing fine -- just a lot of fruitful activities! And, I should have mentioned last time that I am really quite honored that I'm missed! Thank you!

OK -- here's a few more thoughts about your gal...

Most horses do not get enough magnesium, and this mineral is very important for proper muscle relaxation. Since swallowing properly may be an issue, it can't hurt to see if magnesium will help her. Give her 3 ounces (assuming she's around 1000 lbs) of Quiessence each day. Start slowly since her stools will get a little loose. But she will adjust and it will not hurt her.

Probiotics are very useful to many horses however, I do not recommend giving her a yogurt based product. First, it contains lactose and horses are lactose intolerant. Second, their digestive systems are not similar to ours (or dogs), so I would give her a probiotic that is designed for her, such as Daily Start. I like Daily Start because it is highly concentrated with CFUs (Colony Forming Units) and also, and very importantly, it contains oligosaccharides which boost the immune function in the gut. Give her the full ounce each day until she improves and then a maintenance dose of 1/2 ounce per day is fine.

It's good that you have the salt block as long as she licks it. A good rule of thumb is she should consume a 5 lb salt lick within 2 or 3 months. If she's not doing that, you'll want to give her plain, white table salt (from the grocery store) -- 1 tablespoon per meal.

She may have some nutritional gaps that we haven't gone over, depending on what you're feeding her and if she's getting a comprehensive multiple vitamin/mineral supplement. This is also important.

I hope this is helpful.

Best regards,

Dr. Getty

Where are you from? Bayfield, CO