Yesterday evening I fed the horses. Teddy was tied to the hitching post to eat while I took Magnum down to the round pen. When I came back with Magnum, Teddy hadn't finished his food and was looking unhappy and making funny little whinny noises. I put him in a closed section of the field, and he promptly coughed up thick mucous mixed with grain, then lay down as if to roll, but got back up.
I watched him for a little while, and he coughed up more mucous and saliva mixed with food... he also had it dripping out his nose. So I took him up to the front field with Magnum and called the vet. She said it sounded like "choke", when they swallow food without properly chewing, or try to whinny with their mouth full and food gets stuck in the esophagus. She said to call her back if it hadn't cleared in another 30 minutes and she'd come out. As I waited, he kicked at his belly and lay down again. He let me sit on the ground with him and rub his ears, and he just looked miserable. He got back up, coughed some more, but I could see he was hurting. So I called the vet back, and out she came.
The remedy is to sedate the horse and put a tube down the esophagus, pumping water down to soften any lodged food until the tube can be passed all the way down to the stomach. Teddy was sedated, and she started to snake the tube down through his nostril. She did warn me that sometimes they get nosebleeds from this, and I'm glad she did, because he promptly started gushing blood from his nostrils. Thank God Lisa was at the farm at the time, and she offered to help, which I happily accepted since I was having a really hard time looking at the nasty food / mucous mix coming from the tube along with the growing pool of blood in the stall. I was starting to feel ill, and didn't want to look at everything coming from his nostrils... I'm usually not that queasy, but as the vet said, "It's different when it's your own horse".
It took over an hour to finally clear the blockage, and involved several removals and re-insertions of the tube. Lisa handled it like a pro.... after a little while, Teddy started to fight, and would back up, then rear and plunge and thrash around the stall. Lisa quickly developed a technique of holding his halter firmly and letting him plunge and spin around her while the vet and I cleared the stall. I was really impressed at how she stood firm and controlled him without letting him toss her around. Of course, after each of these episodes we'd have to remove the tube and start over. There was also blood everywhere from this.... as Greg put it, "Lisa looked like she just walked out of the ER."
So the blockage was finally cleared, and it seems the culprit was partly the brand new bag of alfalfa pellets I bought... since it hadn't been opened, the pellets hadn't absorbed any moisture from the air and were hard as rock. When Teddy gulped them down, (or possibly tried to whinny to Magnum with his mouth full) he couldn't produce sufficient saliva to moisten them enough to swallow. Unfortunately, the trials and tribulations of treating him left him with a horrible raspy breathing issue, partially due to inflammation from the irritation of the tube, and possibly because he could have inhaled some bloody goop during his thrashing. So now he is to be on a 10-day course of antibiotic injections twice a day to hopefully prevent any pneumonia developing, as well as Banamine paste for the pain and swelling in his throat.
Poor boy looks miserable! I put Magnum in the stall with him overnight to keep him company and console him a little bit. Hopefully his breathing will be improved by morning. Of course, this all totalled about a $600 vet bill, because what horse would ever have an emergency during business hours?! But I've very glad I did call, as I'm sure he couldn't have swallowed or coughed up the lump on his own. Just a note of caution to horse owners... it's always safer to soak hay pellets!