Mia sat on the floor holding her head in her hands in frustration. Her dog, Tutu, was clearly in distress. He was gagging and giving out an occasional cough but she just couldn’t figure out what was wrong with him. Tutu looked like he was choking on something and Mia didn’t know what to do.
Have you faced such a scary situation?
If you haven’t then you might not recognize what’s happening to your dog. And when you do, you might not know how to help them out.
Here, we give you a handy checklist to recognize the signs and act swiftly to help your dog get comfortable again.
What causes your dog to choke?
When we talk about choking, the first thing one assumes is there’s a foreign object lodged in your dog’s throat. Although this is the most common reason, there can be other causes too. And sometimes, your dog might be making sounds similar to choking but may be suffering from something else. The first step is to determine the cause of distress.
A collapsed trachea
The trachea or the windpipe is the respiratory system that connects the throat with the lungs. It’s made of cartilage rings, and over time, this is weakened, which causes it to collapse. A collapsed trachea is a chronic issue with dogs and is often a congenital problem. Small breeds like Pomeranians and Yorkshire Terriers are the most affected. A collapsed trachea can also occur due to other causes like obesity, heart problems, and other respiratory issues.
The most common signs indicating a collapsed trachea is a harsh cough that sounds like they’re choking, breathing difficulty, and abnormal breathing sounds. If you’re sure your dog has not swallowed anything, it’s advisable to immediately contact your vet to ease your pet’s distress.
Kennel cough is a respiratory infection that causes dry cough, which mimics choking sounds. It often appears and sounds like your dog has something stuck in their throat. Other signs of kennel cough include a runny nose, sneezing, and discharge from the eyes. Watch out for these to determine if your dog is really choking on something, and then let the vet know. And don’t worry. Kennel cough is treatable with rest and medication.
Choking on a foreign object - what to do
With that, we come to the most common cause of choking - when your dog has an object stuck in their throat. Common choking hazards include bits of food, small toys, bones, etc.
When you see your dog suddenly struggling to breathe, don’t panic. Also, don’t try to put your hand in and see what your dog has swallowed. They’re in panic mode and might react instinctively, which can result in a bite or nip on your hand. Only, and only if they’ve fallen unconscious, can you check their mouth to try and remove the object.
If your dog is choking but is able to breathe, immediately call or take them to the vet. But if they’re struggling to breathe, perform the Heimlich maneuver. Here’s how.
How to do the Heimlich maneuver
For larger breeds, hold your dog from behind, crossing your arms beneath their stomach. Find the soft spot just under the ribcage and push firmly. Do this a few times.
If your dog is lying on their side, hold them from behind close to your stomach and follow the same process. Make sure to place one hand on their back for additional support.
For smaller breeds, lift them up in your hands to do this procedure.
Remember that some objects might be stuck firmly and will need a few attempts to get dislodged. Even then, it might not fall out on its own. You’ll need to root about inside their mouth and fish it out.
Even if you manage to pluck the offending item out, you will still need to take them to the vet for some follow-up care. Objects stuck in the throat are likely to have caused some sort of damage. Your dog might be required to be admitted into the hospital if the damage is extensive, which only vets can evaluate.
Of course, it’s impossible to keep track of everything your dog is putting into their mouth. However, you can take care to keep certain things like electric wires and other hazardous things out of their reach. Watch out for toys that are too small, and can easily be swallowed and never give them bones or chewy toys that can fit entirely into their mouth. Flexible, bendy items are particularly risky as they can disappear down their throat accidentally. Whenever your dog chews down a toy or bone to a small size, it’s best to take it away and give them a new one.
Choking can happen any time, anywhere. But now, you’re prepared for it!