An Assateague wild horse nearly choking on and ultimately ingesting a piece of ribbon connected to a balloon highlights the dangers of balloon releases and potential impacts on wildlife.
On Monday, one of Assateague’s famed wild horses was seen struggling with a section of ribbon that had been attached to a latex balloon caught in its throat. National Park Service rangers attempted to intervene, but couldn’t get close to the struggling horse because the other horses in her band were so protective of her.
According to Assateague Island National Seashore Chief of Interpretation and Education Liz Davis, the horse was ultimately able to chomp through the ribbon and did not ingest the balloon although it is uncertain just how much of the ribbon she ingested. The incident illustrates the dangers of balloons and other foreign objects left where horses might ingest them while grazing or out of curiosity.
“The horse bit through the ribbon and did not swallow the latex balloon attached,” she said. “The balloon and the remaining ribbon were recovered. We speculate the balloon was entangled in the grass and was subsequently eaten by the horse. Yet another detrimental example of the environmental consequences resulting from balloon releases.”
Horses often choke when they ingest a foreign object or swallow too much roughage at one time. Horses that choke are usually in an acutely distressed state and care should be taken to resolve the problem as soon as possible.
The prognosis for complete recovery after one bout of choke is good. Once you are aware that a horse is choking, the horse should be prevented from eating or drinking anything further. It is best to secure the horse in a safe place and contact a veterinarian for advice.
Frequently, the obstruction will clear just from the movements and efforts of the horse. If the problem has not cleared up in a few hours, a veterinarian's assistance will be needed. The vet may sedate the horse to decrease esophageal spasms and to encourage the horse to relax and put the head down.
Secondary complications of choke may become problematic. They include dehydration, blood pH abnormalities, aspiration pneumonia, esophageal ulceration, strictures, ruptures, or enlargement. Follow-up care is extremely important, and the horse should be kept off food for 48 to 72 hours.
Press release by Assateague Island National Seashore Chief of Interpretation and Education