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Pet First Aid: Choking Dog

It’s often difficult to know whether something’s stuck in your dog’s mouth, or if they’re simply just clearing their throat. Choking in dogs isn’t very common, and a coughing dog can easily be mistaken for a choking one.

What’s more, choking in dogs to the point where their airways are completely blocked is rare, but if you are unlucky enough to have this happen to your dog you need to be fully prepared. At YuMOVE, we’re here to arm you with all the information needed to spot when your dog is choking and to figure out when to step in. Let’s take a closer look…

Our top tip: Before we kick things off, we always recommend calling your vet if you can’t safely remove an object from your dog’s throat within a few minutes. That means if your dog is choking right now, don’t waste precious time reading this guide, and get on the phone!

The signs your dog is choking

Choking happens when something gets stuck in the back of your dog’s throat and blocks their airways, preventing them from breathing. Dogs are more likely to choke on long-lasting chews, toys and balls. This is because they’re able to bite off small pieces of these items. Catching balls, sticks or food in the air can also increase the risk of your dog choking. If you notice your dog coughing after chewing on one of these things or catching an object mid-air, you should intervene straight away. Here are a few other tell-tale signs of choking:

  • Retching or gagging
  • Blue lips or gums
  • Pacing back and forth
  • Pawing at the mouth
  • Whining
  • Visible signs of struggling
  • Excessive drooling
  • Difficulty breathing
  • In the most severe cases, your dog might even pass out

    How to help a choking dog

    Step one: Figure out if they’re choking or just coughing

    When choking, your dog will struggle to breathe. If they’re just coughing, they will still be able to breathe in. It’s more likely that they’re choking if they’ve just been playing with a toy, or munching on a chew.

    Step two: Try to remove the object

    Infographic of helping choking dog

      As we said above, it’s not very common for dogs to choke. The most important thing is not to panic. This will help to keep your dog calm, too. We never recommend putting your fingers into your dog’s mouth when they’re conscious. You won’t be able to grip the object properly, and your pet is likely to bite down on your hand.

      Instead, follow these simple steps to try to move the object out of their airways:

      1. Stand behind your dog and put your thumbs below their jaw
      2. Gently push upwards on their throat to try and dislodge the item

      By doing this, you’ll push the object out of the way, and hopefully free up their airways. It’s important to note that you should never attempt the Heimlich manoeuvre on your pet. Most dogs don’t have the right body shape for it, and you run the risk of breaking ribs or getting bitten.

      If your dog is unconscious, you can use your hands to try to clear their airways. Open their mouth and gently sweep your fingers across the back of their throat to try to dislodge whatever’s in there.

      Step three: Push on the ribs

      The idea here is to push air and the object out of your dog’s lungs:

      1. Lay your unconscious dog on their side
      2. Place both hands on the side of their ribcage
      3. Quickly and firmly push the ribcage (or strike it with the flat of your hand)
      4. Repeat three to four times

        Note: If this doesn’t work after five attempts, call your vet immediately. Don’t keep trying if it’s not working.

        What to do next

        Take a couple of minutes to calm down. This is important for everyone – dogs and humans alike. Then call your vet straight away. It’s essential that your canine is checked thorough by a trained professional. The after-effects of a choking incident can sometimes be just as severe as the choking itself.

        When something gets stuck in your dog’s throat, it can cause some serious damage to the inside of their mouth or their oesophagus. It can also take a few days to heal, so your vet may prescribe pain relief. And pushing on the ribs, if performed, can cause trauma to your dog’s chest. Your vet might also perform some X-rays to make sure that there’s nothing left in the windpipe or digestive system.

        How to prevent your dog from choking

        1. Use common sense. Don’t assume your dog will instinctively know to chew something into smaller bites instead of simply swallowing it whole.
        2. Play with the right-sized toys. Inappropriately sized balls can obstruct airways. You should also consider using balls with holes in them. And never throw toys or food for your dog to catch in the air.
        3. Don’t give your dog cooked bones. These become brittle when cooked and can easily break into shards in your dog’s mouth.
        4. Feed them appropriate food. Always choose food that’s made specifically for your individual dog – whether they’re old or young, big or small.
        5. Don’t play fetch with sticks. You might be surprised to hear this, but the common stick poses many dangers for dogs. Plus, if your dog is a serial biter, the stick can be broken down into smaller pieces and can cause choking.

        Important to note

        This guide should not be used in place of some thorough pet first aid training. First Aid for Pets is an award-winning and market-leading pet first aid course. The best part? It’s all done online.

        Want some more practical guidance on looking after your dog? Check out the other guides in our Pet First Aid series: dehydration in dogs, poisoning in dogs and canine mental health.