What to Do If Your Dog Starts Choking

By Langley Cornwell

It always happens. Every time I write about a dog or cat, I fall in love with him or her. In fact, I become like a star-struck groupie, and celebrate each dog or cat’s successes as if they were my own. My husband laughs at me because I always update him: An ESPN writer just published a book about Wallace, the famous Disc Dog! Or – Fire Safety Dogs Tango and Siren just got a television deal! Or – there was a new monument erected for Stubby, the most decorated War Dog!

Recently, my news wasn’t so exciting: “Therapy Dog Stacey Mae died unexpectedly,” I told him through tears. She was only five years old and did so much for so many during her short time here. At first they thought the cause of death was choking, and I couldn’t shake the thought of how terrible that would be. I knew that if my dog started choking, I wouldn’t know exactly what to do. Would you?  

The veterinarians at PetPlace.com say that pets often come to the vet because of what people think is choking, but that many pet owners mistake vomiting or coughing for actual choking.

Signs that your dog may actually be choking: 

Acting anxious and in distress
Having difficulty breathing
Having difficulty swallowing
Drooling
Gagging
Pawing at his face
Throwing up

True choking can be caused by two major things: a foreign object stuck in your dog’s throat, or your dog’s throat swelling closed because his neck is overly constricted. In both cases this is a real emergency, and you must take action and get your pet to a vet immediately.

Dogs explore with their noses and mouths. It’s their curious nature and undiscerning eating practices that get them into trouble; all kinds of things can get stuck in their throats. Anything that can fit into the opening to their trachea can cause serious harm, but the most common offenders are small balls such as golf or ping pong balls, real bones, cellophane, plastic toys and pieces of wood or cloth.

Be aware that just because your dog has an object stuck in his mouth, he may not be experiencing the emergency condition connected with choking. In order for a foreign object to cause real choking, it must block the opening to the animal’s airway. In any case, it’s important not to panic.

If your dog is choking, he will make retching motions and look panicked. The dog will probably start anxiously pacing back and forth and pawing at his mouth. His chest may be heaving but he won’t be making any airway noises. If any or all of these things are happening, look in your dog’s mouth.

First make sure nothing is constricting his neck. Then examine his mouth by pulling his tongue forward. If you see a foreign item, remove it. Don’t overreact and shove your hand down your pet’s throat; probing around for possible offenders can make the problem worse.

If you can’t easily locate and remove the foreign object and your dog is small, lift him up and hold him suspended with his head pointed down. If you have a big dog or cannot lift your dog, lift his hind legs so his head is tilted down. Maneuvering your pet so his head is lower than his body can help dislodge an object that is stuck in his throat.

If the item stays in your dog’s throat after you invert him, try giving him a few sharp hits with the palm of your hand between his shoulder blades. This sometimes dislodges a foreign object.

If that doesn’t work, you’ll have to perform a canine Heimlich maneuver. Dog Health for Dummies explains the canine Heimlich maneuver this way:

For a large dog: Stand behind your dog and place your arms around his body. Make a fist with one hand, and place the thumb of that hand against your dog’s abdomen just where the sternum ends. With the other hand, grasp your fist and push upward and forward (toward the dog’s shoulders), suddenly and forcefully.

Do this thrusting motion four or five times. Check the dog’s airway again and clear any debris from the mouth. Repeat the chest thrusts if necessary. If the dog is unconscious, clear the airway and perform rescue breathing.

For a small dog: Hold the dog with his head up so that his spine is against your chest. Make a fist with one hand, and place it against your dog’s abdomen just where the sternum ends. Grasp the fist with your other hand, and give four or five rapid thrusts inward and upward.

Check the dog’s airway again and clear any debris from the mouth. Repeat the chest thrusts if necessary. If the dog is unconscious, clear the airway and perform rescue breathing.

Get to the vet immediately, even if you successfully stopped the choking. Choking is very serious, and either the object or your efforts to remove it may have caused internal injury.

Top photo by David J. Morgan
Bottom photo by Giskou

Read more articles by Langley Cornwell

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The personal opinions and/or use of trade, corporate or brand names, is for information and convenience only. Such use does not constitute an endorsement by CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods of any product or service. Opinions are those of the individual authors and not necessarily of CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods.

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3 thoughts on “What to Do If Your Dog Starts Choking

  1. Wow. Great information.
    My dog choked once, I was not home but my hubby told me about it. Shamus had an upset stomach and had been eating grass. When he started to vomit, the grass ball was so big it constricted his airway and he fainted. When he hit the ground (he’s a big dog), the grass ball was dislodged and he could breathe again and woke up.

  2. I have been very lucky and not had a dog choke. That does sound scary. But great advice as to what to do. I think I would head right for our vet. Take care.

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