What To Do If Your Dog Chokes

By Cindy Campione, owner of Secure Home Solutions Pet Care in Tampa, Florida

(Cindy is an RN, a Certified Veterinary Technician, and a certified Pet First Aid/CPR Instructor teaching PetTech’s PetSavers class to pet owners and to pet caregivers such as petsitters, groomers, and kennel workers.)

Because of their strong gag reflex, dogs rarely actually choke.  However, when it happens, it can become serious in a short amount of time.  Usually, canine choking is the result of a large chunk of food, a fragment of bone, a rawhide chew, or a toy (especially a small ball) that has been inhaled and becomes caught in the dog’s airway. A choking dog appears anxious and struggles to breathe. He may paw at his face and pace back and forth.

In a situation where an object is lodged in your dog’s airway but the airway is not completely blocked, Rover may try to cough and gag the object loose. If your pet can gag or cough they have a better chance of getting the object out themselves.  Confine him to a small area and watch him carefully for about a minute.  If the object does not come out by itself within that minute, your pet needs your help.

First, use gravity to help.  If your dog is small and you can lift him easily, gently lift him into the air so that his head is hanging down.  If he is a small overweight dog, or a medium sized dog too large to suspend, carefully stand him on his front legs by holding his rear legs up in the air like a wheelbarrow.  For large dogs, seat yourself on a chair, stair, or a closed toilet and lift your dog’s rear legs over your legs, wrap your arms around the base of his legs near his body to stabilize him, and partially stand up.  The idea is to get his tail higher than his head.

If this action does not result in the removal of the object, it is time for more aggressive first aid to help your dog.  First, call for help.  If you end up taking your dog to the Vet, having someone to help or to drive you there will be much safer!

Now, you must determine the shape of your dog’s chest.  Some dogs are more rounded, or “barrel-chested”.  Other dogs have more of a “taco-shaped” chest.

For a barrel-chested dog, the method is similar to the human Heimlich maneuver.  Place the dog in front of you, facing away from you.  Encircle him with your arms and place your fist just below his rib cage.  With your other hand holding your fist, quickly and firmly pull up and towards you, compressing the abdomen three times in a thrusting manner.  After three unsuccessful attempts, don’t waste any more time, take your dog to the nearest Vet.

For the taco-shaped chest dogs, use the Chest Thrust method.  Chest thrusts are performing by placing your hands on each side of the pet’s chest and thrusting inward.  Thrust in and towards the head of the dog (much like a fireplace bellows) to use the air trapped in your dog’s lungs to push the object out.  Perform one thrust at a time.  After three unsuccessful attempts, it’s time to take your dog to the nearest Vet.

Even if your pet is getting enough air so that he remains conscious, you must be prepared for the object to shift and block the airway completely, at which time your pet will go unconscious quickly due to lack of oxygen.  If your pet become unconscious, open his mouth and pull his tongue out past his canines.  While holding the tongue, look deeply down his throat (use a flashlight if needed) to see if you can pull the object out with your fingers.  If it is not EASILY removable, don’t waste time – get to the Vet!

Never put your finger in the mouth of a conscious dog, and never pull string or thread from a pet’s throat; a hook, needle or other object could be attached to the other end and could inflict greater damage on its way out.

Keep your Vet’s phone number on the fridge and in your cell phone.  If there is another Vet whose office is very near your home, have their number handy, too.  Any Vet will do in an emergency where time is of the essence!  It is a good idea to also find out which Veterinary Emergency Service your Vet recommends, and have their number on hand as well.

There is no substitute for proper Veterinary care for your pet, especially during a medical emergency, however, taking a course in Pet First Aid/CPR is recommended.  One of the best courses available is PetTech’s PetSavers class.  This 8 hour class covers almost everything a pet owner should know.  Knowing what to do in an emergency is one of the best things you could ever do for your beloved pet!