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One day when we were feeding, Sissy, my new horse, was eating her oats. We usually feed in the pasture. She was eating and began choking and coughing. She moved away from her food and tried to lie down. My daughter and I did not allow this. We walked her around and she eventually became ok and went back to eating her oats. My question is, what can be done to help her out at that point in time? I don't like being in a situation in which I feel helpless in helping her out. I'm not sure she was breathing the whole time. Being new at this, I tend to imagine all sorts of things. Like, how do you perform the Heimlich maneuver on a horse experiencing breathing and choking difficulties? I would sure appreciate any helpful information.

- S. C.


My immediate reaction is that your horse may have simply inhaled some grain and that the normal mucus in the respiratory tract should clear it out. You probably acted appropriately to the situation. Keeping her moving may have cleared out any obstruction. I've never heard of the Heimlich Maneuver being done on a horse, probably because the windpipe is large enough to handle most foreign objects and also because a situation severe enough to require it would probably end up with a vet inserting a breathing catheter.

Dusty or moldy feed could trigger an attack like that. Other possible causes include strangles, heaves, and problems with the epiglottis. I have even heard of animals swallowing a wasp while eating and being stung in the esophagus! To play it safe, I'd check with my vet to have him rule out any of the potentially serious conditions - and also to check for the possibility of aspiration pneumonia developing.

Some folks will wet down hay and other feeds to reduce dust, etc., for horses that have a sensitivity to those things.

Happy Riding!

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