Any dog owner will be able to attest to the fact that their pooches put almost anything in their mouths, given the chance.

Like having to watch over a toddler who’s just figured out how to mouth items they’re interested in, if you have a dog you probably spend a good amount of your time with them wondering what they’re going to get into next.

While it can be harmless for them to chew some things and test them out, a dog choking is a very serious consequence. Dogs can choke for several reasons, whether it’s from the food they’re eating or something else that’s become lodged in their throat, and for an owner to watch, it can be quite distressing.

What do you do if your dog is choking?

After assessing the situation and determining that they are choking, you should check to see what’s been lodged in their throat, if you’re able to do so safely. If it can be swiped away safely with your finger, do this,  but if not, you may need to perform a similar technique to the Heimlich maneuver on your pet.

As their lifeline, every animal owner needs to know how to help a choking dog, but also the signs to look for that can indicate something is wrong. We’ve covered everything from common choking signs in dogs to the simple ways you can save their life if you ever come across this frightening situation.

How and Why Do Dogs Choke?

smoll dog and a large bone

Dogs are always exploring things with their mouths and noses, using their senses to figure out the world around them.

One of the biggest downsides to this curiosity is that they’re prone to choking whenever they get something in their mouth that gets stuck, which happens with a lot of items they’re interested in.

Choking happens when an item that’s the ideal size to fit in their trachea gets lodged there and it causes an immediate obstruction to their airways. There are different reasons why a dog might choke, but you’ll be able to tell almost instantly by learning some of the obvious signs.

As with other parts of dog care, prevention is better than the cure, so doing what you can to keep them safe should always be your first priority. There are some common household and pet products that dogs choke on, so if your dog is around them, you’ll want to supervise.

Small items like golf and squash balls, bones, children’s toys, and rawhide can all get lodged in their trachea, especially if they’re eating them quickly or running around as they do. Although these things might seem harmless enough to have at home, an excited dog can quickly get it trapped in their throat, causing them to choke.

Signs That Your Dog is Choking

throat check

Quick action is crucial when it comes to choking, and the same goes for humans and dogs alike. As a responsible pet owner, you should know what to look for in a choking dog so you can act quickly and give them a higher chance of survival. Check out these signs that might indicate a problem in your pooch:

  • Coughing or hacking as if they are trying to get the object out for themselves.
  • Gagging as if they are starting to choke but still able to breathe in.
  • Having trouble breathing, particularly inhaling, and not being able to get a full breath.
  • Pawing at their mouth, neck, or head, in an attempt to try and move the object out of their throat.
  • The dog is unconscious and unresponsive, in this case, the choking needs to be attended to by a professional immediately.

How to Help a Dog Choking

If you’re noticing some signs that your dog is choking, you should attempt first aid using these suggestions to help them as soon as possible.

However, if it’s been more than two minutes and you’re unable to dislodge the item and stop their choking, get them to the vet immediately.

  • Keep your dog restrained while you help them as they can lash out and get aggressive because they’re feeling panicked.
  • Check their neck to see nothing is wrapped around it, and if it is, carefully snip it with a pair of scissors.
  • Open your dog’s mouth as carefully as possible and try to look inside to identify what the issue is.
  • Flick the item to the side if it’s something soft that can be moved easily. Otherwise, use a pair of tweezers to pick the item out if you can.
  • Never attempt to push an object or put your fingers down their throat in an attempt to dislodge it.
  • With a large item, place firm pressure underneath the dog’s jaw using your thumbs and then push forward to get it to come out.

After attempting the above and having no luck, a vet is the next stop. From here, they might sedate your animal to calm them down, and could even perform an emergency tracheotomy. In this instance, they’ll pass a tube into the windpipe which allows your pet to breathe again until they can remove the obstruction.

The Heimlich Maneuver and Dogs

When a human chokes on their food, the Heimlich maneuver is a great way to help them dislodge it quickly and efficiently.

However, on dogs, this can be dangerous and should only ever be attempted if your dog has collapsed and can’t breathe any longer. The technique differs slightly depending on the size of your dog, so follow this guide closely.

  • Smaller dogs should be held against your stomach with their back facing you. Make a fist with your hand and push it into the soft hollow underneath their ribs. Perform three thrusting motions towards yourself to try and dislodge the object.
  • Larger dogs that can’t fit in your lap should be laid on your side, with you kneeling at their back. Find the hollow area under their ribs and use your fist again to push inward and upward towards the direction of their head.

If you do have to try the Heimlich maneuver on your dog and it works, you’ll still need to take them to the vet afterward. As this can damage their chest, they’ll need to be checked out, and your vet will be able to give them the all-clear after their choking incident.

Aftercare for a Choking Dog

comforting shocked dog after choking

When your dog has finished choking, there is still more you need to do. Even if you think they’ve managed to dislodge the object on their own, you’ll want to have their vet check them out to make sure there’s no damage done to their trachea or any abrasions in their mouth.

After these choking incidents, it’s common for there to be some damage left behind. When caring for your dog at home, you’ll want to make sure their food is as soft as possible by pureeing it. A vet might also prescribe some form of pain relief that can make their recovery gentle, depending on how much damage was done.

You’ll need to do a check of the home to make sure there are no other items around that they might choke on in the future. Inspect their toys, food, and bedding for small parts and speak to every member of the household about the risks of leaving choking hazards around that your dog might try to eat.

Related Questions

Seeing your dog choke can be a terrifying experience, but being educated on what to look out for and how to treat it is the most responsible thing you can do as a pet owner.

If you’ve got other questions about how to provide basic first aid to your dog, we’ve answered some FAQs to help you out.

How Do You Clean a Dog Wound?

dog with wound on paw

Taking care of a minor wound at home is easy enough to do with a dog, but anything larger should be examined by a vet.

Keep the wound clean a few times a day using hydrogen peroxide and gauze, and then applying an antiseptic ointment that’s safe for dogs to use. After a few days of care, the wound should start to heal on its own.

What Do You Need in a Pet First Aid Kit?

Having a first aid kit ready for your pet in case of emergencies can save a lot of stress when something goes wrong.

For dogs, you can pack a basic first aid kit with items like gauze, antiseptic cream, antibiotic ointment, tweezers, and wet wipes. If your dog takes any regular medication, keep some spare doses of this in the kit as well.