Exactly What You Should Do If Your Dog Starts Choking

Dogs can choke on all sorts of objects. Recognizing the signs and knowing how to perform the Heimlich maneuver could save their life.

February 5, 2018
dog on the ground
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Choking might not top your list of worries when it comes to your pets. But it can—and does—happen, often more so in dogs than cats.

Dogs, after all, love to inspect toys, bones, sticks, even household items and clothing, with their mouths. Trouble is, all of those objects may potentially be choking hazards, which is where the Heimlich Maneuver can come into play.

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Originally designed for people, this technique uses applied force on the abdomen to dislodge a stuck item from the throat, and it’s a skill pet parents should definitely consider learning. “When a pet’s airway becomes obstructed, breathing is often affected,” says Ashley Rossman, D.V.M., veterinarian at the Glen Oak Dog & Cat Hospital in Glenview, Ill.

While there aren’t Heimlich classes per se, there are classes on CPR for pets, and it’s possible you’ll learn Heimlich there. At the very least, you’ll learn about clearing objects from their airways. But if you can’t get to a class, knowing a few basics can help.

How To Know If Your Dog Is Choking

First, know the symptoms that indicate choking. They include difficulty breathing, pawing at their mouth, choking sounds when breathing or coughing, and blue-tinged lips or tongue, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).

Related: Is It OK To Feed Your Dog Fruits And Vegetables

How To Give Your Dog The Heimlich

1. Determine if you can see the lodged object by opening your dog’s mouth—“just be careful with dogs as you could easily get bitten, especially if they’re not completely conscious,” Rossman says—and use your fingers to remove the object. You can also try using tweezers or pliers but be careful not to push the object further down the throat, warns the AVMA. Just don’t waste too much precious time trying to get the item out.

 

2. If you still can't remove the object, the AVMA suggests placing both of your hands on either side of her rib cage and applying firm quick pressure. Periodically check your dog's mouth and remove any objects that may have been dislodged.

3. If you can’t remove the object or your dog has gone unconscious, roll her onto her side and firmly strike her rib cage with the palm of your hand three to four times. Periodically check your dog's mouth. ​You should continue this until the item comes out or you arrive at your vet’s office. 

Important note: “You can try Heimlich once or twice, but if it’s not working, your pet needs to get to the vet immediately,” says Jennifer R. Pittman, DVM, DACVECC, a specialist in veterinary emergency and critical care at BluePearl Veterinary Partners in Sandy Springs, Ga. Keep your pet as calm as possible as you head to the vet, as they'll likely be in panic mode.

4. During this time, if you dislodge the object but your dog stops breathing, you’ll need to perform rescue breathing. Close your dog’s mouth with your hand and breathe into her nose until you see her chest expands. Once this happens, continue every four to five seconds, the AVMA says.

Care doesn’t end there, though, Pittman says. Even if you were successful at removing the object, you should always still seek vet care, as you need to make sure the object didn’t damage your pet’s throat.

 

Related: 5 First-Aid Essentials Every Pet Owner Should Know

How To Prevent Choking In The First Place

Your best course of action is to prevent choking in the first place. A great tip from PetMD: Treat your dog as you would a small child. Always keep an eye on what she's chewing (and think twice about rawhide chew toys) and cut up any pieces of human food you may give her (scraps of meat, vegetables) into small pieces.