How to help if your dog is choking:
One of the most popular topics that we always cover on our First Aid for Dogs courses is how to help a choking dog.
Unfortunately, dogs frequently choke. This is because dogs are inquisitive and will often chew on anything they can get hold of: from plastic bags to sticks, socks and toys. If it goes down the wrong way, it may leave them unable to breathe. We often inadvertently contribute to this, as they can choke on balls and toys when they try and catch them in their mouths. Some dogs also have a tendency to wolf their food and this too can make choking more likely.
If you are unable to dislodge the object within a couple of minutes do not delay getting to the vet.
Signs your dog is choking
Choking occurs when something becomes stuck in the back of the throat and blocks the airway.
If the airway is partially blocked the animal may start retching, pacing back and forth and pawing at their mouth. They may be struggling to whine and alert you to their problem.
However, if their airway is totally blocked, they will be unable to make any sound at all.
What to do if your dog is choking
- Firstly, gently restrain your dog to protect yourself, but do not muzzle them as they are struggling to breathe, and a muzzle will make things worse. Choking dogs are likely to struggle, potentially causing harm to themselves and to you, they may thrash around and bite in their panic.
- Open the mouth and look inside. An object in the mouth such as a stick or piece of bone may be able to be removed with a large pair of tweezers or by reaching into the dog’s mouth, with the help of another person. DO NOT put yourself at risk of being bitten. If this is a in any way a possibility, take the animal straight to the vet to remove the object.
- Some dogs such as Labradors have an additional cavity at the top of their mouth where objects can become lodged. If a solid object is lodged at the back of the throat (e.g. rawhide or a pig’s ear), one person should hold the mouth open extremely carefully (try to press their lips over their teeth to protect your fingers) and another reach into the dog’s mouth with tweezers or forceps to grasp the item and remove it.
- Do not push at the object with your fingers as you may lodge it deeper.
- Do not stick your fingers down the throat or finger sweep to try and locate an object, as this is likely to cause damage to the delicate tissues at the back of the throat.
- Large objects, such as balls or pieces of rawhide, can sometimes be dislodged by placing firm pressure with both thumbs underneath the jaw at the base of the throat and pushing forwards.
If the above, hasn’t worked:
For a small dog:
Pick the dog up by its thighs and gently shake 3 or 4 times in a downwards motion.
For a large dog:
Try and support the dog’s head downwards against yourself or lift their hind legs like a wheelbarrow.
Perform the heimlich manoeuvre if this hasn’t worked:
- If the dog is standing, put your arms around its belly, make a fist with one hand and with your other hand on top push firmly up and forward, just behind the rib cage.
- If the dog is lying down, place one hand on the back for support and use the other hand to squeeze the abdomen upwards and forwards.
Check the dog’s mouth and remove any objects that may have been dislodged with your fingers
What to do if this is not working
If this hasn’t worked, you need to phone the vet and get your pet to them ASAP. In most cases, getting rid of the choking obstruction allows the dog to begin breathing again on their own.
Remember that because they are scared, they could bite you – even when the object has been removed. They may also pick up on your panicked heartbeat which will add to their fear and anxiety.
If your dog is unconscious and not breathing, you may wish to begin cardiopulmonary resuscitation at approximately 120 chest compressions per minute; 30 compressions to 2 breaths and continue these until the vet can take over.
What to do afterwards
Whether the item is dislodged or not, it is essential that the animal is thoroughly checked by a vet, as there may be damage to the inside of the mouth or throat once the object is removed, or damage to their ribs or internal organs if you have attempted an abdominal thrust.
Trauma to the inside of the mouth or throat can take many days to heal and can also make it hard or painful for the dog to eat their regular food. Making the normal diet soft by running it through the blender with warm water may help. Your vet may dispense pain relief to help during the recovery period.
PLEASE LEARN DOG FIRST AID IN ADVANCE OF AN EMERGENCY SITUATION – do not rely on google to direct you to the most appropriate and correct advice in an emergency situation.
We offer many free resources to help owners learn in advance how to help with medical emergencies with their pets. Knowing what to do in an emergency can help you remain calm and react effectively.
We have also produced a free online course on how to help your dog if they choke.
We offer many free and instructive videos on the First Aid for Life YouTube channel too.
Watch our video showing how to help your choking dog:
Don’t forget you can buy our invaluable guide for dog lovers here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/First-Aid-Dogs-invaluable-lovers/dp/0995490007
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Written by Emma Hammett for First Aid for Life
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It is strongly advised that you attend a fully regulated Practical or Online First Aid course to understand what to do in a medical emergency. Please visit https://firstaidforlife.org.uk, https://www.firstaidforpets.net or call 0208 675 4036 for more information about our courses.
First Aid for Life is a multi-award-winning, fully regulated first aid training provider. Our trainers are highly experienced medical, health and emergency services professionals who will tailor the training to your needs. Courses for groups or individuals at our venue or yours.
First Aid for life provides this information for guidance and it is not in any way a substitute for medical advice. First Aid for Life is not responsible or liable for any diagnosis made, or actions taken based on this information.