Dogs are inquisitive beings, exploring their worlds with their noses and mouths. Unfortunately, this leads to a common problem: choking.
They chew on all sorts of things, and if an object gets stuck in their throats or wrapped around their necks, their airways can become blocked leading to an unfortunately common emergency.
What are the signs of choking?
When your dog is choking, she may:
- Show extreme distress
- Drool excessively
- Paw at the mouth
- Gag and retch
What should you do for a choking dog?
- Before you leap to action, it’s important to remain calm and take notice of what’s really going on.
Is your dog coughing or gagging? If so, it's similar to your friend at dinner who starts coughing or gagging when their food goes down the wrong tube. They can't talk to you, but they don't need you to intervene – not yet. The same is true for your dog.
- Corral your pet into a small area so if things get worse they can't run and hide from you. Dogs who are panicky may thrash or bite. Don’t put yourself in danger of being bitten.
- If something is wrapped around the neck, carefully use scissors to remove the object.
- Open the mouth and look inside. If you can see the object, take care when trying to grab it! You don’t want to push it further down in the throat or damage the lining of the throat. It’s best to use tweezers to pull the object out if you can.
- Some dogs like Labradors have an area at the top of their mouths where things can get lodged. Be sure to look there, too.
- If you can’t see the object, DO NOT put your fingers down the throat to search. You could inadvertently push the object further down and damage the throat.
If the situation worsens and your dog can no longer cough or gag, you need to take immediate action.
Is there a Heimlich maneuver for dogs?
Yes, but we’re not allowed to call it that! In dogs and cats it’s called Choking Management. It’s a bit different as we don’t do sub-abdominal thrusts like we do on humans.
Learning the proper technique in a first aid class for dogs is important. Beware of other methods you may find in an internet search.
The technique we teach is the one recommended by veterinarians for the most effective methods that cause the least amount of adverse side effects:
Just like you would do, a choking dog will stand up. Place your hands on either side of the rib cage and push your hands toward each other. The idea is to compress the rib cage to force air out of the lungs and push the object they are choking on up and out.
This will often do the trick. If the object comes out, be sure to grab it and dispose of it before your pup decides they want another try!
What happens if that doesn't work?
Your pup may become unconscious from the lack of air. If this happens, be sure to look in the mouth right away to see if the object can be reached. Quite often the muscles in the throat relax and you can grab the object easily.
If the object isn’t expelled within the first minute or two, don’t delay – get to the vet immediately!
Time is of the essence when your dog is choking, so don’t spend too much time trying to dislodge the object on your own. Getting to the vet quickly is critical. Call ahead if you can and let them know you’re on your way with a choking dog.
Should I perform rescue breathing or CPR?
On your way to the vet, you may need to perform rescue breathing or CPR to help push the item up or down while your pup is unconscious.
These maneuvers are life saving, but should only be done if you’ve been trained on the proper technique.
Is it important to learn dog first aid?
You bet it is!
You may think it’s unlikely that you’ll ever have an emergency situation with your dog, but that’s what 92% of all pet owners thought before they experienced an emergency with their animals.
That’s right! The vast majority of pets will experience some sort of emergency in their lifetimes. Over 60% of all vet visits are emergency in nature.
That alone tells you you’re much more likely than you ever thought to need first aid skills in your back pocket.
There are many good first aid classes available where you can learn the basics, including what to do if your dog chokes and when, how, and where to perform rescue breathing and CPR.
Sit n’ Stay offers Pet Tech pet first aid classes where we prepare you for what to do in all kinds of emergencies.
To learn more about our Pet Tech first aid classes, click HERE.
Being trained to know exactly what to do in emergencies helps pet parents feel confident they can help their beloved doggos in any situation. That peace is worth the price alone, but best of all, you may actually save the life of a dog one day!