Choking is one of the most common reasons our dogs are taken to the emergency veterinary clinic. We try our best to keep our pets safe, but even under a watchful eye they can get into trouble. Knowing how to handle that trouble can become a life saving event. Dogs are constantly getting into items that they can, and do, choke on. A choking dog is an emergency situation, and you may not have time to get to the vet soon enough to save your precious friend. Therefore, it’s very important to understand how to safely treat a choking dog to make sure that he’s alive and as well as can be for his follow up visit with the veterinarian.
- Know the Signs – Pets, just like humans, that can’t breath will start panicking. If you happen to see your dog frantically pawing at its mouth or under severe distress, check to see if he’s choking. If you’re later on the scene, and you find your dog unresponsive or unconscious, check his throat to make sure there is nothing lodged in the airway. The most common items dogs choke on are balls, chew toys or sticks that have broken into smaller pieces, and lumps of gristle. Chew toys as sticks can become enlarged when moistened by the saliva in the dog’s mouth, and although they may seem small enough to pass through initially, they could get stuck.
- Safety First – This is as important for you as your dog. Even the most docile animals will panic and become violent when they are suffocating and/or fearing for their lives. Make sure to restrain the dog as safely as possible, but in a choking case, you do not want to muzzle him. This is easier when you are not alone, but it can be done. When opening the dog’s mouth, try to press the lips against the teeth to protect your fingers.
- Check the Airways – If you’re lucky, you may be able to remove the item by yourself. Objects that are stuck in the throat can be dislodged with a flat spoon handle if you cannot pry it free with your hands. Remember to try not to use any sharp objects to remove the item as this can cause further damage.
If your pet has become unconscious or you found your pet unconscious on arrival, and there is no noticeable object in the airway, you will need to perform a Heimlich maneuver. Follow the steps below depending on the size of your dog:
For Large Dogs:
- Stand behind your dog, with the down facing away from you.
- Wrap your arms around the dog’s waist, making a fist with one hand, wrapping your other hand around that fist. Place your fist, thumb side up, on the dog’s abdomen just below his ribs.
- Give a hard, fast thrust upward toward the dog’s backbone. Use enough force to move the whole dog’s body.
- If the dog is lying down and you cannot lift him up, place one hand on the back for support and use the other to squeeze the abdomen upwards and forwards.
- If the item becomes dislodged, it may shoot out forcefully or it may be pushed into the mouth and need to be removed by you. Remember to check the dog’s mouth after each thrust to make sure it is not dislodged, but stuck far into the mouth.
- If you are unable to dislodge the item, you will need to get your dog to the nearest emergency veterinarian as soon as possible. They may need to cut into the dog’s throat to open up the airway before the item is able to be dislodged.
For Small Dogs:
- If the dog is a medium to small dog, you can kneel behind him in the same manner as a large dog and go through the same steps provided above.
- If the dog is a very small dog, do not use your entire fist. Instead, place two knuckles on the abdomen below the rib cage and the other flat on his back for support. Give quick, hard pokes with your knuckles in the upward, forward motion.
- Follow the above steps for dislodging the item that has come loose into the mouth.
We hope that you’ll never need to know this information, but it’s always better to have it stored in case you do. You never know when an emergency is going to happen, and even situations we think are benign can turn catastrophic. For instance, it’s important to make sure that any balls you use for fetch are large enough not to fit past the back molars on your dog – therefore preventing it from becoming lodged and causing the dog to choke. Little things can be done to improve your dog’s safety, but there are still times when your pup might get into trouble. With these simple steps and the help of your veterinarian, your dog will hopefully receive all of the care needed to continue a healthy life.