What to Do If Your Pet Is Choking

Dr. Courtney Dewlaney

Feb 3, 2023

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Choking in dogs and cats is rare, but when it does happen, it can be scary for any pet owner! While most of the time pets are able to cough up bits of food or an object that gets lodged temporarily in the throat, it is possible for dogs and cats to experience choking. So how can you best protect your dog or cat from choking? At VEG, all we do is emergency in our pet clinic, so we’ve seen our fair share of choking incidents. Being prepared is the first line of defense, so we’re here to help pet owners know what to do to keep their pets safe.

First, you should be aware of the most common choking hazards, so you can keep them out of your pet’s reach. It’s also important to know what choking looks like—and what it’s not! Did you know reverse sneezing can look like choking in dogs? Finally, all pet owners should know what to do in the event of a choking emergency, from what steps to take to when to visit the emergency vet.

MOST COMMON CAUSES OF CHOKING

  1. Dog toys can be choking hazards. Believe it or not, all dog toys are not appropriate for all dogs! A toy meant for a small dog can be a choking hazard for a big dog, so make sure to choose the proper size. While you can’t always rely on store labels, a good rule of thumb is that the toy should be bigger than the opening of your dog’s mouth. Rawhides can also cause choking, so be sure to toss them when they get too small.

  2. Dogs can choke on human toys, too. Before your next game of fetch, beware that tennis balls and other small rubber balls can get lodged in your dog’s throat as they come in quickly to catch them. And, if you have kids, keep small toys and game pieces out of your pet’s reach, as they can cause choking as well.

  3. Laundry can be dangerous for dogs. Many dogs love laundry, whether curling up in a ball in a pile of warm clothes or playing keepaway—especially with socks! Unfortunately, socks are at the top of the list for choking emergencies. Be sure to keep socks and other small laundry items safely in drawers and hampers to prevent a trip to the ER.

  4. Pets can choke on various foods. Pets can not only choke on human food that isn’t cut up small enough, but they can also choke on their own food if it’s not the proper size. For small dogs, if their kibble is too big, water it down to prevent a choking emergency.

Even if you’re careful and keep hazards out of reach, it’s important to be prepared in the event of a choking incident. Here’s a quick rundown of steps to take if your pet is choking.

STEPS TO TAKE IF YOUR PET IS CHOKING

  1. Is your pet really choking? Look for the signs. Although choking is very serious, dogs and cats rarely choke. They may look and sound like they’re choking, but instead may be dealing with dog allergies, reverse sneezing, a collapsing trachea, or laryngeal paralysis. So what does it look like when your pet is choking? In dogs, signs of choking include pawing at their mouths, a change in gum color from lack of oxygen, panic, and discomfort. If your pet is truly having trouble breathing, take the following steps, or bring them to VEG right away.

  2. Check your dog’s mouth for the foreign object. Do NOT attempt this if you think your dog may bite you. If you can feel the object under their jaw, position your pet on their back and attempt to push the object toward the mouth with your thumbs. Then, carefully open your pet’s mouth to see if you can spot what’s causing them to choke. If you see the object, try to move it to one side with your finger. If the object is movable, you may be able to gently pull it out. If you’re able to move the object enough to allow your dog to breathe, but not enough to remove it, go to the emergency vet right away to have it surgically removed.

  3. Try the canine Heimlich. The Heimlich maneuver for dogs is very similar to the Heimlich for humans. The biggest difference: your dog should be in a wheelbarrow-like position, with their mouth and snout down toward the ground and back legs up. This may be impossible with very large dogs, but if you can do it, this step is important.

    Next, put your hands around your dog’s abdomen and press under their ribs, moving up and forward, five times. This is the same motion you would use when doing the Heimlich on a human. Finally, stand your dog on all fours again and tap between their shoulder blades firmly, five times.

  4. Check your dog thoroughly. After removing the object from your dog’s mouth or throat, check them carefully for any sign that they’ve suffered a more serious injury from choking. If your pet still seems to be choking, has lost consciousness at any point during the event, or has other symptoms at the same time, bring them to the vet right away.

  5. Go to the emergency vet. Even if you think you’ve removed the cause of choking, go to the emergency vet just to be sure. They can check for any remaining pieces of the object, as well as any lasting symptoms or injuries. Especially if your pet is actively choking, call the vet before you go so they’re prepared to treat your pup as soon as you walk in.

  6. Follow the vet’s orders for follow-up care. Your emergency vet will likely give you information about follow-up care, which may include plenty of rest, fresh water, and soft food. They may also recommend that you follow up with your regular vet over the coming days, depending on the severity of the situation.

VEG IS YOUR HOSPITAL FOR ALL EMERGENCIES + URGENT CARE FOR PETS

While you’ll need to act fast at home to prevent suffocation, if your pet is choking, VEG is here to help. Our pet hospital locations nationwide are open 24/7, 365 days a year, with emergency vets who are always ready to help you and your pet in any choking emergency.