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Dog Choking: What to Do and How to Prevent It

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Dogs aren’t picky about what they eat or put in their mouths, making choking a potential risk. Fortunately, dog choking is not very common, but it is a life-threatening emergency that is scary for dogs and dog parents alike.

Knowing what choking looks like and what to do if your dog is choking will allow you to act quickly and give your dog life-saving help.

Choking in dogs is an emergency. After quickly trying to resolve choking at home, you should immediately seek veterinary care.

Causes of Choking in Dogs

Because dogs are willing to put just about anything in their mouths, there are a number of things that can cause choking.

Small toys, rawhides, and bones can easily get lodged in the throat and are common causes of choking in dogs.

Tennis balls can get stuck at the top of the throat, also causing choking.

If a dog eats too quickly, food can go down the trachea instead of the esophagus, blocking the airway and causing choking.

It’s not always something that a dog swallows that can cause choking. A collar that’s too tight can constrict the neck during a walk if a dog pulls on the leash. Collapsing trachea is a common medical condition in small dogs and can cause choking.

This article will focus on what to do if food or a foreign object causes choking.

Signs a Dog is Choking

For people, the universal sign of choking is grabbing the neck. Our dogs, of course, cannot do that. But they do show other signs of choking that are important to recognize.

Coughing and hacking are usually the first signs of choking in dogs and are an attempt to cough up the obstruction in the throat. Here are other signs to look for:

  • Gagging, retching
  • Pawing at the face
  • Excessive drooling
  • No noise coming from your dog
  • Rubbing the face on the ground
  • Wheezing and difficulty breathing
  • Appearing frightened, frantic, and distressed

If your dog cannot breathe because of choking, their skin and mucus membranes (gums and tongue, pink area around the eyes, genitals) will start to turn blue because their body is not getting enough oxygen. A choking dog who cannot breathe will eventually collapse and lose consciousness.

How to Help a Choking Dog

If your dog is choking, act quickly and without panicking (we know – easier said than done).

Choking is a medical emergency, and you should try to relieve it immediately. If you are not successful, get your dog to a veterinarian or veterinary emergency room.

It may surprise you, but the Heimlich maneuver can be used in dogs, large and small. Its purpose is to create enough upward force in the chest to dislodge an object from the throat.

The Heimlich maneuver for dogs is not the first step, though. First, you should try to remove the object with your hands. Let’s go over both methods, as well as what to do if neither works.

Remove the object

  1. Restrain your dog without using a muzzle. If you have someone with you, ask them to gently restrain your dog. 
  2. Open your dog’s mouth carefully to avoid getting bitten.
  3. Look in their mouth, including the roof of the mouth, to locate the object causing the choking. Use a small flashlight if you have one nearby.
  4. If you can see the object, sweep in the mouth with your fingers to try to remove it.
  5. For a small object, like a chunk of food or rawhide, try to grasp it and remove it without pushing it further down the throat.
  6. For a large object you can see but not remove with your hands, like a tennis ball, put your thumbs on the sides of your dog’s windpipe, under the ball, and press upward to force the object up and out.
  7. Don’t reach down your dog’s throat if you cannot see anything. You may accidentally push the object farther down.

Perform the Heimlich maneuver

You’ll want to perform the Heimlich maneuver in these choking situations:

  • You cannot dislodge the object with your hands
  • Your dog is gasping for air, and you cannot get to the vet in time

Feel free to call your veterinarian’s office and ask them to guide you through the steps listed below.

Performing the Heimlich on a small dog

  1. Position your dog’s back against your chest.
  2. Wrap your arms around their chest.
  3. Place the fist of one hand just under their ribcage.
  4. Gently but firmly thrust upward and inward.
  5. Place the dog on their side and look in their mouth to see if you can remove the object.
  6. If your dog continues choking, seek emergency care.

Performing the Heimlich on a large dog 

  1. If your dog is standing, bend over or kneel and wrap your arms around the belly, just behind their rib cage. Lift upward to increase pressure in their chest.
  2. Firmly thrust upward and inward from just behind the rib cage.
  3. If your dog is unconscious, lie them on their side on the ground, supporting their back and extending their neck. Place a fist just under their ribcage and thrust upward and inward toward your dog’s head.

After performing the Heimlich, place your dog on their side. Look in their mouth and remove the dislodged object if you can, following the steps listed above.

Perform CPR

If your dog is not breathing after performing the Heimlich, try to perform CPR. Ideally, at least one person would perform CPR on your pet while another drives to an emergency veterinary clinic.

When to See a Veterinarian

You must follow up with your veterinarian if your dog choked, even if you relieved the choking at home and your dog is breathing normally again. Your veterinarian will check to ensure that the entire object was removed and assess your dog for potential injuries caused by choking and performing the Heimlich.

For example, the dislodged object may have damaged your dog’s throat and mouth. Also, performing the Heimlich may have injured your dog’s ribs.

If your dog stopped breathing while choking, they may need to be hospitalized and receive supplemental oxygen.

Your dog may be in pain after choking. If this is the case, your veterinarian will prescribe a medication to reduce the pain.

How to Prevent Choking in Dogs

Here are some strategies to prevent your dog from choking:

  • Block access or hide all small toys and objects from your dog
  • Give your dog only sturdy toys that can withstand vigorous chewing
  • Do not give your dog toys with small parts that may easily be chewed off and inhaled
  • Do not give your dog rawhides or bones
  • Secure your garbage to prevent your dog from opening the lid
  • Use a slow feeder bowl to slow down your dog’s eating