Horse Side Vet Guide ®

Equine Health Resource

Choke Treatment with Nasogastric Tube



The passage of a nasogastric tube is a standard treatment for choke (esophageal obstruction). A vet passes the tube through a nostril into and through a specific nasal passage, and into the pharynx, where a swallow is encouraged. The tube is then fed into and down the esophagus until the blockage or obstruction is felt.

Attempts are made to break up and pass the offending obstruction by flushing, softening, siphoning, and gently pushing. Removing an obstruction easily and without trauma to the horse is part of the “art of veterinary practice.”

Most chokes are simple to relieve but some are very difficult. I usually work for a short time on the obstruction. If I am unsuccessful, I stop and give other treatments time to work. Medications can be given that relax the esophagus and help allow the obstruction to pass.

In difficult cases, hospitalization with intravenous fluids may be required. It can take several hours to successfully treat this condition. Once the obstruction is relieved, the tube can easily be passed into the stomach. The horse shows relief soon thereafter. Nasal discharge subsides and the horse relaxes and begins to act normal.

Related DiagnosesThis Treatment Might Be Used for these Diagnoses

Consider Potential Side Effects & Complications

Over aggressive use or misuse of the tube can cause esophageal damage that can be permanent or life threatening. Aspiration of water and feed during the procedure can cause pneumonia.

Nose bleed can be caused by repeated trauma to the nasal passage, and sometimes cannot be helped. While bleeding can be heavy, it usually stops within a few minutes. It is not significant blood loss to the horse.

Consider Reasons Not To Use This Treatment

Extra care must be taken with horses that have a history of prior respiratory surgery as this could predispose to aspiration.

If the obstruction is "high up" there may be more risk for aspirating material into the lungs.

Is It working? Timeframe for effect

Horses rapidly show relief once the obstruction is removed.

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP


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