Choke in Elephants and Bears

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Summary Information
Diseases / List of Physical / Traumatic Diseases / Disease summary
Alternative Names See also: 
Disease Agents

In Elephants:

  • Objects which have lodged and caused choke include whole fruits, stones and a coconut. (B70.B4.w1, B214.3.7.w3, D301.3.w3)

In Bears:

  • Meat, in two cases. (B214.3.4.w16)

Further information on Disease Agents has only been incorporated for agents recorded in species for which a full Wildpro "Health and Management" module has been completed (i.e. for which a comprehensive literature review has been undertaken). Only those agents with further information available are linked below:

Infectious Agent(s) --
Non-infectious Agent(s) --
Physical Agent(s)
General Description
In Elephants

Clinical signs:

  • Restlessness. (B70.B4.w1)
  • Inability to drink water. (D301.3.w3)
    • Much time may be spent at a water trough trying to drink, but with water coming back out of the elephant's mouth. (B70.B4.w1)
  • Inappetance. (B214.3.7.w3)
  • Dripping of saliva from the animal's mouth, due to inability to swallow the saliva. (B10.49.w21)
  • Dehydration. (B70.B4.w1, D301.3.w3)
  • It may be possible to detect a mass under the skin of the neck (indicating the site at which the object is stuck). (B10.49.w21)


In Bears


  • In a male Ursus americanus - American black bear, a chunk of meat, about 20 cm long and fist-shaped, from the mouth to the cranial oesophagus, completely blocking the throat. The oesophagus was dilated, the cervical lymph nodes were swollen and hyperaemic and the tongue tip was missing (bitten off, as indicated by tooth marks). (B214.3.4.w16)
  • In a Helarctos malayanus - Sun bear, a chunk of meat was firmly wedged in the throat. (B214.3.4.w16)
Further Information
In Elephants
  • If the object is left in situ the oesophagus can become inflamed and constricted and circulation may be damaged, leading to necrosis of the oesophagus, and death. (B10.49.w21)


  • A case of thoracic oesophageal blockage caused by ingestion of stones was reported in an elephant that died after two weeks from the first signs of disease. (B214.3.7.w3)
  • Choke has been reported in a number of Elephas maximus - Asian Elephant. (B10.49.w21)
  • Choke has been reported in Loxodonta africana - African Elephants when competing for fruit or vegetables that may be too big and cause oesophageal obstruction. (D301.3.w3)
  • Choke occurred in a Loxodonta africana - African Elephant which had swallowed a whole orange. (B70.B4.w1)
  • Chock occurred in a seven-year-old Elephas maximus - Asian Elephant which had eaten a stone; the stone had become lodged at the top of the oesophagus. (P1.1981.w4)
  • Sudden inappetance in a female elephant was due to a coconut lodged in the throat. (B214.3.7.w3)


  • Smooth muscle relaxants. (B70.B4.w1, D301.3.w3)
  • Passing of a stomach tube into the oesophagus and gentle pumping of water around the obstruction, aiming to dislodge it. (B10.49.w21)
    • Note: use of lubricants and pressure may not be effective:
  • Surgical removal of the foreign body. (B10.49.w21, D301.3.w3)
    • This is essential if other treatment fails to dislodge the obstruction. (B10.49.w21)
    • Following surgical removal, the wound through the neck must be left as an open wound to heal gradually, to reduce the development of oesophageal stenosis. (D301.3.w3)
    • In a seven-year-old Elephas maximus - Asian Elephant with a rock stuck in the upper oesophagus, the rock was removed by oesophagostomy under general anaesthesia. In brief, a ventral midline incision was performed, with obvious vessels and nerves avoided, the paired muscles ventral to the trachea being separated and the trachea retracted to the right side to give access to the oesophagus. The oesophagostomy incision was performed just below the blockage and the rock was removed through this (it was very tightly wedged and moving it up to the mouth was impossible even with pressure from below). The oesophagus and skin were left unsutured in the hope of healing with less stricture formation and without fistula formation. Unfortunately, oesophageal constriction did occur and despite extensive treatment the elephant eventually died from aspiration pneumonia (see: Aspiration Pneumonia in Elephants). (P1.1981.w4)
  • Euthanasia may be required if oesophageal rupture and necrosis occurs. (B70.B4.w1)


  • Fruit and vegetables should be cut up before being fed to elephants. (D301.3.w3)
Associated Techniques
Host taxa groups /species Further information on Host species has only been incorporated for species groups for which a full Wildpro "Health and Management" module has been completed (i.e. for which a comprehensive literature review has been undertaken).

(List does not contain all other species groups affected by this disease)

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