Choking is a frightening event, especially when it's your beloved furry friend who can't breathe. Knowing what to do in those critical moments can save your pet's life. This guide covers causes of pet choking and clear step-by-step instructions for helping a small dog, large dog, or cat that is choking.
What Causes Pets to Choke?
Common reasons pets can choke include:
- Eating too fast and not properly chewing food. This is especially common in dogs.
- Trying to swallow an inedible object like a toy, clothing item, or stick. Puppies and kittens are prone to putting items in their mouths.
- Getting a bone, rawhide, or piece of food lodged in the back of their throat.
- Having an allergic reaction that causes throat swelling.
- Suffering throat trauma or damage.
- Developing an object stuck due to a neurological issue.
Step-By-Step: Helping a Small Dog That's Choking
If your small dog is making choking or gagging sounds, has difficulty breathing, is pawing at their mouth, or has blue gums, follow these steps:
- Open their mouth to check for and remove the obstruction if possible. DO NOT perform a blind finger sweep.
- Pick up your small dog and hold them face down while supporting their back and neck. Use one hand to dangle them while the other hand rests on their back.
- Gently swing them from this position to use gravity to dislodge the object. Do this for no more than 3 seconds before checking their mouth and airway again.
- If unsuccessful, place them on their side on a firm surface. Deliver 5 back blows by firmly hitting them between the shoulder blades with the heel of your hand.
- Next, flip them over and provide 5 chest thrusts right over their sternum with two fingers pressed together. Alternate 5 back blows and 5 chest thrusts.
- Repeat this cycle until the object is dislodged or the dog loses consciousness. If they lose consciousness, begin rescue breaths and CPR immediately.
- Rush to emergency veterinary care once their airway is clear.
Helping Medium and Large Dogs When Choking
For medium dogs up to about 25kg, follow the same steps as for small dogs by picking them up and providing gravity swings, back blows, and chest thrusts.
For large dogs, skip lifting them and instead perform abdominal thrusts:
- Stand behind them, place your arms around their belly, and form a fist with one hand just below their rib cage.
- Use your other hand to tightly grip that fist and make an abrupt upward motion to displace the obstruction.
- Alternate with cycles of back blows. Work quickly but carefully to avoid injury if the dog struggles.
- If the object does not dislodge, take them to emergency veterinary care right away to remove the blockage.
Note: Breeds like labradors and brachycephalic breeds like pugs, bulldogs, and boxers have an extra throat pouch where objects can become trapped. Take prompt action if these dogs are choking and get emergency vet care immediately.
Saving a Choking Cat's Life
For choking cats, follow these steps:
- Lay the cat on their side and open their mouth to check for any obstruction you can pull out. Never do a blind finger sweep.
- Position your cat facing away from you with their back against your chest as you sit or kneel on the floor.
- Use one hand to hold their mouth open while placing the thumb side of your other hand along their rib cage.
- Perform 5 firm thrusts inward and upward just behind their ribs to force air out.
- Repeat cycles of 5 belly thrusts, rechecking the mouth each time. Get emergency vet care if unsuccessful.
Choking is frightening, but staying calm and using focused force can save your pet's life. Knowing what to do ahead of time is crucial, but try to get professional guidance whenever possible. With prompt action, you can help your pet breathe easy again.