Nipper ‘nipped’ off more than he could chew

Google Maps location for South Eastern Equine Hospital

South Eastern Equine Hospital
359 Hallam-Belgrave Road
Narre Warren North
Victoria 3804

03 8790 4922
03 8790 4944


Nipper is a 5 year old Thoroughbred that came to South Eastern Equine Hospital very early one Saturday morning with ‘choke’. Contrary to what you might be imagining, no, we didn’t need to perform the Heimlich manoeuvre on Nipper. ‘Choke’ in horses is actually an obstruction of the oesophagus, the tube connecting he mouth to the stomach, not the airway.

Poor Nipper was found by his owners feeling sad and sorry for himself; coughing with food material and saliva streaming from his nostrils – the classic presentation for choke. The referring veterinarian attempted to relieve Nipper’s obstruction the typical way that works in the majority of cases. The veterinarian passed a tube up Nipper’s nose into his oesophagus and attempted to flush out the obstruction, but the feed material remained stuck and would not move down into Nipper’s stomach.

Nipper arrived at South Eastern Equine Hospital in need of added technology to help solve the problem. Using an endoscope, which is essentially a camera at the end of a long tube that we pass up the horses’ nose, Dr Robyn Charman and Dr Steph Brooder could actually visualise the nature of the obstruction. You can see from the photographs the visual aid an endoscope can provide. The images show both the hard obstruction blocking Nipper’s oesophagus as well as his oesophagus looking clear after we managed to relieve the impaction. Multiple attempts throughout the day were required using very small forceps (the size of half your little fingernail) to progressively break down the obstructing mass. Patience and perseverance are the keys to moving these food masses without damaging the sensitive structure of the oesophagus. Unfortunately when damage occurs to the wall of the oesophagus it has a tendency to contract as it heals and form strictures. Such strictures can predispose the horse to choking again in the future so prompt and careful release of an obstruction is crucial.

A further complication of choke involves food material and saliva being breathed into the lungs given it cannot pass normally down the oesophagus. Nipper’s potential to develop aspiration pneumonia was particularly high as his oesophagus was blocked virtually at its entrance in his throat. When Nipper was first examined at South Eastern Equine Hospital, we scoped his trachea (windpipe, airway) and unfortunately, but rather expectedly, found a great deal of food material present. Nipper was started on antibiotics immediately and although he inevitably developed mild pneumonia, we managed to keep it in check and he made a full recovery.

After a brief stay in hospital Nipper was free to go home, still on his antibiotics and with a check-up already booked in to make sure his oesophagus was healing well. Fortunately for Nipper it looked fantastic and he is thoroughly enjoying his leisurely life once again.

 ‘The visual of the obstruction in Nippers’ oesophagus obtained with the endoscope’



‘Nippers’ oesophagus cleared of the obstruction’



Nipper enjoying his first meal since choking, a lovely gruel that we concoct up.  Unfortunately horses often need a bit of convincing that its actually food’

‘Nipper back at home being his usual cheeky self’

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