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Health & Wellness

How to help a choking dog and perform the Heimlich maneuver

It’s important to act fast when an emergency happens

Dogs use their mouths to explore — which means they’ll grab at just about anything. It’s relatively uncommon for pups to choke on the things they pick up, but it's still wise to be prepared on the off chance an emergency happens. Fetch by The Dodo’s on-staff veterinarian Dr. Aliya McCullough shares some signs your pet is choking and tips for acting fast.‍

What can dogs choke on? ‍

You should always keep an eye on what’s in your dog’s mouth. Dogs most commonly choke on items like socks, balls, toys (children’s toys, too), rocks, plastic bags or wrap, food, rawhides, Bully Sticks, bones and garbage‍.

How to tell if your dog is choking‍

There are a few key signs that your dog is choking. Look out for: 

  • Pawing at the mouth
  • Gagging or retching
  • Coughing
  • Turning blue 
  • Collapsing
  • No noise coming from your pup

Here's what to do if your dog starts choking

Swipe their throat with your finger

If your dog is choking, the amount of time it takes to remove the object from their throat is critical, as they could be struggling or unable to breathe. Try to carefully and safely pry open your dog’s mouth and then swipe the object away using your finger in a sweeping motion across the base of the tongue. Avoid poking instead of swiping — that will push the food down further. 

Only perform a finger swipe if it’s safe to do so. When choking, dogs are often scared and panicking and may bite while you’re performing this maneuver.

Perform the Heimlich maneuver

If swiping doesn’t work, try the Heimlich maneuver. When your dog is standing, place your arms around their chest and put your hands together to form a fist. Using your fist, repeatedly push up and forward just behind their ribcage. According to the Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences department at Texas A&M University, if your dog is lying down, you should place one hand on their back and use the other to squeeze the abdomen upwards.

While performing the Heimlich maneuver, be sure to remove any pieces that may break apart or become dislodged from your pup’s throat. Once most of the parts have been removed and your dog can breathe independently, take them to the emergency room. ‍

Perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)‍

If your dog becomes unconscious and stops breathing, perform CPR. There are two types of CPR, chest compressions and rescue breathing, according to Veterinary Partner.‍

Chest compressions‍

When performing chest compressions on small dogs, pick them up by wrapping one or both hands around their chest and squeeze rapidly (around 100 to 120 times per minute). If you have a larger dog that’s lying on their side, place your hands on the widest side of their chest and push rapidly. If your dog is lying on their back, press on the breast bone. Regardless of their position, perform 30 compressions at a rate of 100 to 120 times per minute. Be sure you are compressing ⅓ to ½ the width of their chest, making sure the chest springs back fully after each compression.‍

Rescue breathing‍

To perform mouth-to-nose rescue breathing, close your dog’s mouth, straighten their neck, cover their nose with your mouth and forcefully breathe air into their lungs. Keep blowing air into their lungs (the lungs will deflate on their own) until you see their chest expand. After giving three to five breaths, wait a couple of seconds to see if they start breathing independently. If not, continue this process 10 times per minute and head to the nearest veterinary emergency hospital. 

If two people are available, use rescue breaths in between sets of 30 chest compressions. Then, continue CPR as you make your way to an emergency animal hospital.
It’s important to act fast.

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What should you do after your dog stops choking? ‍

In the case your pet stops choking, take them to the vet or animal hospital immediately and get them checked out. The veterinarian will want to evaluate and treat your pup for swelling or other injuries to the mouth, throat and lungs. Veterinarians will remove the object (and make sure it’s all gone). In some cases after choking, dogs may need to be hospitalized and receive oxygen therapy. 

How to prevent your dog from choking‍

Younger pups usually choke more often than older dogs because they’re learning and interacting with new objects. However, there are some steps you can take to ensure all pets are safe as possible:

  • Keep small items away from dogs
  • Monitor dogs during play and meal times
  • Make sure their toys don’t have pieces that can break off
  • Choose toys that are appropriate for the size, age and chewing behavior of your dog
  • Avoid rawhide and bones

If you want some more practice with pet CPR or the Heimlich maneuver, sign up for a pet first aid course to help you feel comfortable in the case of an emergency. Accidents happen — these steps will prepare you to help your dog in a choking situation. 

Photo by Ashkay Madan

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