What to Do if Your Dog Is Choking

ProTrainings What to Do if Your Dog Is Choking

Table of Contents

  1. How to Recognize Your Dog Is Choking
    1. Common Choking Hazards to Look For
    2. Medical Causes of Canine Choking 
  2. What to Do if Your Dog Is Choking
    1. The Heimlich Maneuver for Larger Dogs
    2. The Heimlich Maneuver for Mid-Sized Dogs 
    3. The Heimlich Maneuver for Smaller Dogs 
  3. What if Your Dog Chokes on Nothing? 
  4.  What to Do After Rescuing Your Dog From Choking

Most of us know about the Heimlich maneuver and understand the basics of performing it if someone is choking. But what about our canine family members? 

Do you know what to do if your dog is choking?

According to the Atlanta Humane Society, over 200,000 animals are seen by veterinarians each year for choking. Like with humans, choking is a life-threatening event that can happen suddenly and requires immediate first aid. But is it okay to use the Heimlich on a dog?

Read on to learn what to do if your dog is choking, including recognizing and avoiding common choking hazards, performing a modified Heimlich, and the steps to take after the rescue. 

How to Recognize Your Dog Is Choking

When animals are struggling to breathe, they often become panicked and move more quickly. Their eyelids may be raised more than usual, revealing the whites of their eyes. 

Many dogs will even attempt to throw themselves from side to side or aggressively paw at their neck or throat area in an attempt to dislodge the item that’s causing them to choke.

While it’s certainly beneficial to know what to do if your dog is choking, you also can mitigate the risk of choking by eliminating potential choking hazards from your home.

Common Choking Hazards to Look For

Even the most conscientious pet owners can overlook potential risks to their four-legged friends. Here are two common choking hazards to look for in your home:

  • Food. Dog owners should ensure they’re providing appropriately sized food for their dog’s size and breed. This includes cutting up any larger chunks of food that may be provided to the dog. 
  • Toys. Extra care should also be given not only to your dog’s toys but also to any children’s toys you have in your home.
    • Soft toys can be chewed apart in seconds and quickly turn into a choking hazard.
    • Small plastic toys can easily get lodged in your dog’s throat if your dog is playing excitedly.
  • Treats. Rawhides, bones, and sticks can all be culprits, as anything smaller than the windpipe or back of the throat can get stuck. 
  • Collars. A collar that is tightened excessively, or a collar that becomes too tight when a dog pulls on its leash, can be a choking hazard. It should be loose enough that you can slip two fingers underneath it. 

Once you’ve pet-proofed your home, mistakes can still happen, so as a pet owner, it’s essential that you know what to do if your dog is choking.

Discover the most common causes of canine choking with this infographic. Some of the causes may surprise you!

Medical Causes of Canine Choking 

Sometimes, your dog might be choking due to a medical condition or an injury. If your dog’s choking is being caused by one of these conditions, you’ll still want to take action. 

Collapsing Trachea

This is a common cause of choking in older, small-breed dogs. It happens when a dog’s windpipe becomes floppy, meaning that the harder a dog tries to breathe, the less air gets in, causing coughing and choking. 

Currently, there is no cure for collapsing trachea. But you can make lifestyle changes to keep your dog as healthy as possible, and you can speak to your vet about cough medicine. 

Kennel Cough

Kennel cough is a highly contagious infectious respiratory disease in dogs that can mimic signs of choking. Kennel cough is a catch-all term for several infectious organisms. Kennel cough causes dogs to hack and cough like they have something caught in their throat. 

Kennel cough is easily treated with antibiotics and cough medicine. You can prevent your dog from getting kennel cough by staying up-to-date on yearly bordetella vaccinations.

Puppy Strangles

Puppy strangles, an uncommon condition, is seen in young dogs. Puppy strangles causes swelling of the throat and lymph nodes along with flu-like symptoms. Puppy strangles is also known as juvenile cellulitis, so if your puppy’s skin is affected, seek treatment. 

What to Do if Your Dog Is Choking

If your dog is conscious and choking, do not attempt to clear their mouth or airway. This can result in spiking their stress levels and getting bit, preventing you from actually helping them.  

If your dog is unconscious and choking, clearing the airway before performing the Heimlich maneuver is recommended.  

Knowing what to do if your dog is choking — specifically, how you should position them for the Heimlich maneuver — depends on the size of your dog.

Learn how to effectively perform the Heimlich maneuver on a dog of any size with this downloadable PDF.


The Heimlich Maneuver for Larger Dogs 

If your dog is standing, you can position yourself behind them using their rear legs to help the dog stand up with their back against your chest. As you would with a human, you’ll place your hands at the base of the dog’s abdomen and perform five quick upward thrusts with moderate force. 

If your dog is lying on their side, place one hand firmly on their back, and with your other hand, perform quick upward thrusts on their abdomen. In both positions, it’s important to be aware if the object is dislodged so you can remove it from your dog’s mouth and ensure they don’t choke on it again. 

The Heimlich Maneuver for Mid-Sized 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.

If your dog is lying on the floor, put one hand on your dog’s back and use your other hand to squeeze or push your dog’s abdomen upwards and forward towards the spine, then perform a sweep of your dog’s mouth to see if you can find and remove what they were choking on. 

The Heimlich Maneuver for Smaller Dogs 

Smaller dogs should be quickly positioned across your lap with the dog lying on their back facing up. Place one hand firmly on their back to help keep them in position, and place your other hand on their abdomen. With moderate force, quickly press your hand into their abdomen five times. 

After five quick upward thrusts with the palm of your hand, you should position the dog on their side so you can check their mouth again for the object. Repeat this process until the object is dislodged. 

What if Your Dog Chokes on Nothing?

As silly as it sounds, dogs can choke on “nothing” – meaning, their airways may become obstructed even without a foreign body inside. 

If your dog seems to be choking on “nothing,”
they may be in anaphylaxis. 

This could be due to allergies or a reaction to a toxic chemical or plant-based substance. Unfortunately, if your dog goes into anaphylaxis, it can cause the same symptoms as choking. 

If you’ve checked your dog’s airway, performed the Heimlich, and still can’t find an offending item to clear, your dog may be experiencing a reaction or medical issue. In any case, you’ll want to get them to the vet for testing. 

What to Do After Rescuing Your Dog From Choking

Visit your veterinarian as soon as possible so that they can perform a full medical assessment on your dog. Any amount of force applied to the chest or abdomen area can cause discomfort, which should be examined by a physician to ensure the dog receives appropriate medical care. 

The vet should also inspect the dog’s mouth, as it’s a common area for injuries associated with choking and regurgitating a foreign object. 

Knowing what to do if your dog is choking, as well as how to perform the Heimlich maneuver and what to do after rescuing your dog, is essential to saving your furry family member and ensuring their safety and health. 
Contact us today to learn more about our group and remote-staff CPR certification programs.