An overview of Choke in Alpacas

Written by: Bria Osborne, OVC 2026

Edited by: Dr. Paisley Canning

What is choke?

Unlike choking in humans which refers to the obstruction of the trachea (windpipe), choke in alpacas refers to the obstruction of the esophagus by food. Choke is an emergency as a prolonged blockage can lead to esophagus damage, sepsis, pneumonia, tracheal collapse, and death.  

What causes it and what are risk factors:  

Most cases of choke are management related. High feeders, lack of trough space, lack of water access and mounded pellets are risk factors for choke in alpacas. Having herds where there is high competition for food can result in your alpacas gobbling their food too quickly, resulting in a choke event.  

How to prevent:

  • Place troughs and feed pans at or near ground level  
  • Place feed pans at least 4 feet apart  
  • Provide plenty of trough space  
  • Food should be spread out rather than piled or mounded  
  • Feed timid eaters together and competitive eaters together  
  • Divide the total amount of feed into morning and night feedings  

Signs of choke:  

  • Excessive salivation (figure 1)
    • Due to your alpaca not being able to swallow its saliva
  • Food coming out of mouth
    • Food cannot pass the blockage, so it comes back out the mouth
  • Coughing
  • Gagging sounds
  • Distress murmurs
  • Agitated
  • Getting up and down
  • Lethargic
  • May be able to feel the bolus from the outside of the neck

Photo Credit: Long Acres Alpaca Farm  

Figure 1: An alpaca experiencing a choke event. Notice the excessive saliva coming from its mouth.  

How it’s treated:  

Choke is a medical emergency. Call your veterinarian if you think your alpaca is having a choke event. Your vet may pass a stomach tube to try and dislodge the bolus, administer sedative drugs, or refer to a specialty clinic for surgical removal or more intense intervention.  If your alpaca has a choking event that resolves without veterinary care, you might consider having your vet out to check the alpaca after the event. Often alpacas will have respiratory disease and pneumonia after a choking event and may need antibiotics.  

Please contact Dr. Canning if you think your alpaca has choke or if you would like more information on preventative measures. You can contact the clinic at [email protected], or on  


Alpaca Veterinary Field Manual  

Last updated on August 8th, 2023.