Wednesday February 24 2010
For the third day in a row, I turned the 8 horses loose up the canyon for a few hours in the afternoon. For the third day in a row, I went out on the 4-wheeler to fetch them. For the third day in a row, they were all the way up at the other end, and for the third day in a row, they trotted-cantered-galloped most of the way in. (I'm trying to train them to come in on their own, same time every evening.)
And for the third time, I rewarded them all with a little grain for coming down. In each of 8 pens I've put a feed bucket with a handful of grain in each - just enough to make them think they are getting a reward for coming back down.
All of them had a sweat from the 1 1/2 mile run and from their hairy coats (Stormy came straight up to me so I'd scratch his neck, which was agonizingly itchy). Most of them went straight to the water trough, but not all of them got a drink before they remembered the pens with the feed buckets. It's possible they got a drink at the far end of the canyon where the water is running in a few spots in the creek, but it's possible they hadn't had anything to drink since before 3 PM. I'm pretty sure Huckleberry didn't get a drink when he got back.
By the time I got all the horses in a pen, some had already finished their grain and I started letting them back out. But Huckleberry was standing there looking almost like he was hiccuping, and he'd only eaten a handful of his grain - he was choking!
He looked more perplexed than he did distressed; he kept licking and chewing, and trying to swallow, but it didn't work. I haltered him and started massaging his throat and esophagus, and I could produce some gurgling sounds at different places but I couldn't tell where the blockage was.
Great. It was getting dark now, and the nearest veterinarian is at least 45 minutes away. I ran inside and called the neighbors. Rick and Carol came over and had a look at him. Some fluid was starting to come out of Huck's nose (though it didn't look like any of it was food), and he was continually chewing and licking, and trying to swallow.
The only experience I'd had with choke was that Jose did it once at a vet check at an endurance ride, from alfalfa. The vet had just massaged his throat a while, and we kept an eye on him, and eventually it worked its way down. He never had any nasal discharge. I remembered reading that the horse can get aspiration pneumonia and rupture of the esophagus if the blockage is in there too long.
Carol went inside to call a vet while I stayed with Huck and kept massaging his throat - for lack of anything better to do.
The night vet on call at the clinic said that he could come out, but most choke cases resolved themselves, and tubing a horse didn't always work; the vet recommended lunging him for a while. That might get his neck and throat muscles working and help dislodge the blockage.
Carol lunged him a while - he'd give some big coughs - then let him rest and massaged his throat. She did this a couple of times, and he coughed each time. But when Huck stopped moving, he continued the licking and chewing and the inability to swallow.
The vet didn't sound worried - Huck could breathe alright despite the liquid coming out of his nose, and he still didn't look or act terribly stressed - the vet suggested just leaving him alone and checking on him once in the night, and if he wasn't over it by morning, get him to a vet.
Hmmm... I was a bit more worried than that.
The vet said we could give him a dose of banamine paste that we had on hand, as Huck might be able to absorb some of it through his mucous membranes. In ten minutes he had a great body spasm - like a big squeeze from butt through the stomach through the neck... and out of his mouth came a big cough and a lot of liquid (must have been saliva he'd been chewing on the last few hours) and some of the banamine paste.
After that Huckleberry chewed and tried to swallow less frequently (still couldn't, though). I left him alone for an hour, leaving him with a bucket of water. I went back out to check on him at 9, at 10, and 11. Each time the chewing and trying to swallow had decreased (but he still couldn't swallow), and he stood quietly but alertly.
At midnight I heard him start to whinny. I went out again, and he was pacing his pen. Wouldn't stand still long enough for me to hear if he was licking/chewing/swallowing. He hadn't touched any water.
The herd was probably not 50 yards away from him, but he wouldn't stop pacing. I moved Phinneas and Dudley to a closer pen, not 30 yards from him, in direct sight, and put out hay for them so Huck would have closer company, but he kept pacing.
I went to bed, and got up at 3 AM to check on him. Went out in a driving snowstorm (!!!) and Huck was still pacing. Still hadn't touched water. He was wet, either from the snow or from the pacing, or both.
Well? I didn't want him to keep running his pen, but I didn't want to turn him out because I didn't know if he still had a blockage and didn't want him eating. I really thought it was important to keep him penned to see if he drank any water. I couldn't put another horse in with him because I wouldn't know if Huck drank any water, and I didn't have another pen to put him where I could keep him near the other horses for company and monitor his water intake. He'd probably get sweaty and cold from the snow and the continued pacing, but... what else was there to do? He'd either be fine in the morning or he wouldn't. I went back to bed.
Got up in the morning and he was...
...standing in his pen, quietly, because the other horses were close to him. As soon as they moved off, though, Huck started pacing again. He still hadn't touched water. He was wet and shivering, and the snowflakes were still falling. I took him out and led him to the big water trough, but he wouldn't touch it. I put him back in the pen with another horse, but he started pacing again.
I gave up. Opened the gate and let him out. He trotted straight out to the hay bale and started eating. He ate for a half hour on and off (he's enough of an outcast that the herd won't let him stand at the bale and gorge), an hour, two hours - and I never saw him drink.
He seems fine this afternoon - poop and pee looks good, he looks normal. (And I finally witnessed him take a drink at 2 PM). I guess the blockage dissolved and he's okay. However, I read that signs of pneumonia usually appear 24 to 48 hours after the onset of choke.
Great. I guess we'll know if he's really okay in a day or 2.