Pharynx: foreign body in Horses (Equis) | Vetlexicon
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Pharynx: foreign body

ISSN 2398-2977


  • Inhaled foreign bodies are rare in the horse.
  • Cause: thorns, twigs and brush bristles most common; large objects less so.
  • Signs: dependent on site:
    • Nasal foreign body → unilateral acute nasal discharge and/or epistaxis, snorting and head-shyness/shaking → chronic discharge and halitosis.
    • Large pharyngeal foreign body → peracute respiratory dyspnea and acute dysphagia.

    A life-threatening respiratory obstruction may occur if a large foreign body becomes firmly lodged.

    • Small, sharp pharyngeal foreign bodies → dysphagia, nasal regurgitation, squealing and arching of neck.
  • Diagnosis: direct endoscopic visualization.
  • Treatment: removal, and antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory therapy.
  • Prognosis: generally good.

Presenting signs

Nasal foreign bodies
  • Unilateral nasal discharge Nose: nasal discharge and/or epistaxis .
  • Snorting/sneezing.
  • Discomfort.
  • Chronic cases develop halitosis.
Small pharyngeal foreign bodies
  • Acute onset dysphagia.
  • Nasal regurgitation and distress when eating/drinking.
Large pharyngeal foreign bodies
  • Peracute inspiratory dyspnea.

If firmly lodged → life-threatening respiratory obstruction.

Geographic incidence

  • Worldwide.

Cost considerations

  • Cost of treatment.

Special risks

  • Animals with large pharyngeal foreign bodies should not be anesthetized.



  • Foreign body is accidentally inhaled and becomes lodged in either the nasal passages or the pharynx depending on size.

Predisposing factors



  • The physical presence of the foreign body causes an obstruction and irritation.


  • Large foreign bodies will cause acute onset clinical signs.
  • Smaller foreign bodies may result in more chronic duration of clinical signs.


Presenting problems

Client history

Clinical signs

Nasal foreign bodies
  • Nasal discharge (usually unilateral) Nose: discharge 03 - purulent Nose: discharge 02 - froth.
  • Epistaxis Nose: epistaxis - bleeding.
  • Snorting/sneezing.
  • Halitosis.
Small pharyngeal foreign bodies
  • Dysphagia.
  • Nasal regurgitation Nose: discharge 01 - food Nose: discharge 04 - milk    Nose: discharge 05 - food.
  • Distress.
Large pharyngeal foreign bodies
  • Peracute inspiratory respiratory distress.
  • Dyspnea.
  • Dysphagia.

Diagnostic investigation

  • See Respiratory endoscopy Respiratory: endoscopy Pharynx: dorsopharyngeal cyst - endoscopy.
  • Allows direct visualization of the foreign body and therefore identification of its nature and location.

Confirmation of diagnosis

Discriminatory diagnostic features

Definitive diagnostic features

Differential diagnosis


Standard treatment


  • Monitor for resolution of clinical signs.



  • Prevent crib biting, etc.



  • Good.

Expected response to treatment

  • Resolution of clinical signs.

Reasons for treatment failure

  • Failure to remove foreign body.

Further Reading


Refereed papers

  • Recent references from PubMed and VetMedResource.
  • Kiper M L et al (1992) Metallic foreign bodies in the mouth or pharynx of horses; seven cases (1983-1989). JAVMA 200 (1), 91-93 PubMed.
  • French D A et al (1989) Removal of a retropharyngeals foreign body in a horse, with the aid of ultrasonography during surgery. JAVMA 194 (9), 1315-1316 PubMed.
  • Bayly W M et al (1982) Epistaxis caused by foreign body penetration of a guttural pouch. JAVMA 180 (10), 1232-1234 PubMed.