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Heimlich Maneuver For Dogs: What do I do if my dog is choking?

Most dogs will chew just about anything - including things you don't want them to. But what should you do if something gets lodged in your dog's mouth or throat and they start to choke? Here, our Bonita Springs emergency veterinarians offer advice on what to do in a choking emergency. 

Signs Your Dog is Choking

One of the first signs that your dog is choking is likely to be coughing. If your dog has something stuck in their mouth or throat, they will typically begin coughing in order to try and expel the object. You may also notice that your dog is having difficulties inhaling due to the obstructed airway.

Other signs of choking in dogs include pawing at their mouth or head or appearing panicked or frantic. In severe cases, a choking dog may become unconscious.

What to Do if Your Dog is Choking

If you notice any signs that your dog is choking, it is essential to take action immediately; choking can quickly become a life-threatening situation. 

Begin by checking the inside of your dog's mouth to see if there are any visible objects lodged in your dog's mouth or throat. If there you can see something, try to gently retrieve with your finger to help your dog breathe again. 

If you can't see anything or are concerned you may push the object further in while trying to get it out, bring your dog to the emergency vet as quickly as possible or try performing the Heimlich maneuver as instructed below.

If you can see a small bone lodged in your dog's throat do not try to remove it yourself. Bones can injure your dog's throat. Get your dog to the vet as quickly and safely as possible in order to have the bone removed while your dog is sedated.

Heimlich Maneuver for Dogs

If you aren't able to remove the object that your dog is choking on with your fingers, the Heimlich maneuver is your next step. Depending on the size of your dog, there are two different methods:

Heimlich Maneuver For Smaller Dogs

Carefully hold your dog on your lap and turn them onto their back, then using the palm of your hand apply pressure right beneath the rib cage and push firmly inwards and upwards 5 times in a thrusting motion. Roll your dog back onto their side and check their mouth for the food or object that was causing the issue.

Heimlich Maneuver For Medium and Large Dogs

If your dog is standing, put your arms around them so your hands join at the abdomen. Then make a fist with your hands and firmly and swiftly push up and forward five times in a thrusting motion - much like you would perform the maneuver on a human.

When done correctly, this should dislodge whatever was stuck. Even if they spit something out, be sure to check their mouth to be sure everything is gone - you don't want them to swallow whatever they were choking on and risk choking again.

If your dog is laying on the floor, place one hand on the dog's back and use the other hand under your dog's body push or squeeze their abdomen upwards and forwards towards the spine, then check your dog's mouth for the offending object.

What to do After Your Dog has Stopped Choking

Even if you have managed to remove the object from your dog's throat and stop your dog from choking it is important to contact your vet immediately. If your dog went without oxygen for any length of time hospitalization may be recommended.

Choking can cause painful damage to your dog's mouth and throat that may not be immediately visible to a distressed owner. Your vet may recommend a bronchoscopy to check your dog's throat for damage.

Preventing Future Choking

To prevent chances of your dog choking in the future, make sure to keep an eye on your dog when they are playing with anything that could be a potential choking hazard such as toys or bones.

Feeding your dog a food that is formulated specifically for your dog's size can help to prevent choking, particularly for small breeds. Nonetheless, it is always a good idea to monitor your dog when they are eating.

If there are children in the household, be sure that toys are kept out of your dog's reach. Children's toys can pose a potential choking risk.

When choosing toys for your dog, be sure to choose a toy that is sturdy enough to withstand your dog's level of chewing. If your dog is a more aggressive chewer be sure to look for extra-tough chew toys designed to withstand the pressure without breaking into pieces that could get lodged in your dog's throat.  

At Southwest Florida Veterinary Specialists, we offer 24/7 emergency services. If your dog is showing signs of choking contact us or bring them to see our experienced emergency veterinarians immediately. 

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