Save a Life! Help a Choking Dog
Find out why dogs choke and how you can help a choking dog. Be empowered and know what to do should this happen to your pet dog!
Dogs are infamous for their prying noses and curious appetites. Whether they're munching on a rogue chicken wing discarded on the sidewalk or going through the garbage for spoiled scraps, you can guarantee that your pup will get into something during their lifetime. But what can you do when your dog, god forbid, starts choking on whatever oddity they've found?
As a pet owner, it is frightening, stressful, and even frustrating to realize that your dog is in danger, especially if you don’t have a specific guide on what to do. When your dog is choking, your pet depends on you to get whatever is stuck in their throat out before it's too late.
But exactly how do you help a choking dog? What do you do if a dog is choking or struggling to swallow? Understanding some facts about dog choking can help you comprehend the severity of the situation and may give you some guidance on what to do.
What causes dogs to choke?
There are several reasons your dog might choke, but the most common is food. Obstruction can also occur due to the injection of small toys, rawhide chews, and other little objects your dog encounters and decides to put in their mouth.
When a dog swallows something, it typically travels first through the esophagus and then into the stomach. But if your dog chokes, the object that it swallows blocks the trachea.
Note that there are two tubes in your dog's throat, the trachea for breathing and the esophagus for eating. If the food or object goes down the wrong pipe, your dog ends up choking.
Tennis balls, rubber balls, and plastic toys are all examples of small objects that pose a choking risk. It's crucial to keep an eye on your dog while they're playing and only give them the safest toys. Read up on what you should avoid giving your dog from the pet store.
What are the common signs of a choking dog?
For people, choking can be signaled by not being able to talk, and we can make the universal sign of putting our hands around our neck to get attention and help.
Your dog obviously can't do that, so being observant of any sudden changes in your dog's behavior is vital to know if they are already choking.
For most dog owners, the small changes in the behavior may be too subtle, so how do you know when a dog is choking?
Here are the common signs to watch out for:
Hacking or coughing while in the middle of happily eating their meals or chewing something
Attempts to take deep and large breaths without the chest rising or falling
Pawing at the mouth
Gagging and retching and trying to cough something out
Rubbing their faces on the ground
Wheezing sounds when breathing
If your dog struggles to get air through its trachea, it will eventually pass out and become unconscious, with their usually pink and healthy gums becoming pale and whitish to bluish. Without real-time intervention, death is a possibility.
What to do when your dog is choking
What do you do if your dog has something lodged in their throat? Regardless of if you can reach in and clear the obstruction on your own or you'd rather head to the veterinarian, you should always take a choking incident seriously. It nearly always entails an emergency trip to the animal doctor.
But if you are feeling confident or time is of the essence and you would like to do something to help a choking dog, here are the first aid steps that you can follow:
1. Gently and carefully restrain your dog for your safety
A choking dog is a scared and confused dog and may unintentionally bite you. Prevent this from happening by gently restraining your dog. Do not use a muzzle as this may exacerbate the issue.
Because your dog is already struggling to breathe and panicking, it is expected that they may thrash around and bite blindly.
The best way to restrain a panicked and choking dog is to put them on their side. Hold your pet down while reassuring your anxious dog that everything will be okay.
2. Perform a finger sweep
So here's what to do if your dog is choking on a bone or something else.
With someone else holding your dog in place (if possible), open the mouth and look inside. Check if you can see an object blocking or stuck in the back of your dog's throat.
Constantly assess the situation and do not put yourself at risk of being bitten.
You can attempt to grasp and dislodge objects like a piece of bone or a stick using tongs, long tweezers, needle nose pliers, or your hand. But if you feel that moving the object may further push it down your pet's throat, don't attempt to touch it.
3. Go to the vet
Regardless if you were able to remove the choking hazard or not, or if you are having second thoughts about attempting to remove the object, it will still be best to head straight to the vet so that they can further check on your dog and assess them for unseen damage.
Essential information you should keep in mind
Never blindly grasp for the object or try to look for it by patting or exploring by hand, as this can further cause damage to the tissues of your dog's throat.
If you want to know how to help a choking puppy or smaller dog breed, you can try to dislodge the stuck item by performing a Heimlich maneuver. Pick up your pet with their head up and have their back against your stomach. Locate the soft hollow under their rib cage and push up.
Another useful tip on how to help a choking dog, especially if a large object like a ball or a rawhide is stuck, is to apply firm pressure using your thumbs under your dog's jaw. This is at the base of its jaw, and then gently push your fingers forward.
A dog choking but still breathing is still a good indication, but if your dog stops breathing, immediately perform chest compressions and CPR to help restore your dog's breathing. At this point, it is critical that you get to the nearest vet as soon as possible.
How to prevent your dog from choking
As much as you are with your dog and on top of their activities, there are unfortunately instances when freak accidents like this can happen.
Still, you can take preventive measures to ensure that choking is less likely to occur.
Keep tiny objects stored properly, like Lego blocks and toys, to prevent your dog from getting curious and putting them in their mouth.
Table scraps, some human foods, and bones are all choking hazards, so you need to be proactive about what human foods are safe for your dog. Find out "Can Dogs Eat Green Beans?” or "Can Dogs Eat Chicken Bones?" so you know what you can and shouldn't share with your dog.
Dogs that eat fast are susceptible to choking, so use a special slow feeder bowl to force your pet to slow down while eating.
Armed with a little guidance, you can be confident about how to help a choking dog and save a canine life. Good luck, and always partner with your vet to ensure your dog is okay after a scary choking episode.
Lizz Caputo is a Content Strategist at Figo, animal enthusiast, and owner of a rescued senior American Bully. Her hobbies include checking out new restaurants in her area, boxing, and petting dogs of all shapes and sizes.