Dog Choking: How To Do The Heimlich Maneuver For Dogs

May 1, 2024

It can be terrifying; your dog is choking, and you’re not sure what to do. Knowing how to help your dog if they’re choking may save their lives, and being able to perform the Heimlich maneuver may be the lifesaving act.

How to Tell if Your Dog is Choking

When your dog is choking, it’s usually because something is blocking their airway. This could be food, a small toy, or even a fragment of a chewed-up item they shouldn’t have eaten in the first place. If they’re choking, your dog might panic, act frantic, paw at their mouth, drool excessively, cough, gag, or even attempt to dislodge the item by rubbing their face on the ground. Bluish gums or tongues are serious signs that mean there’s a critical lack of oxygen. Quick action is absolutely imperative to help clear their airway and prevent more severe complications.

Signs of Dog Choking

Choking is an urgent situation and recognizing the signs can be the difference between life and death. A choking dog may seem extremely anxious or panicked. While common signs include pawing at the mouth, excessive drooling, and making choking sounds, you might also see them retch or cough, struggle to breathe, or even become lethargic if the airway is significantly blocked.

What to Do When Your Dog is Choking

If you think your dog is choking, stay calm but act quickly. First, check their mouth and throat to see if you can safely remove any visible object. Be careful to avoid pushing the object deeper or getting bitten. You can try the Heimlich maneuver if the object isn’t easily removable.

The Heimlich maneuver for dogs is similar to the one performed on humans in its goal—to dislodge an object from the airway—but it differs in technique due to anatomical differences. For humans, the procedure typically involves standing behind the person and using thrusts from the hands to compress the abdomen just above the navel. In dogs, the approach you use changes with the dog’s size.

Both methods try to create a forceful gust of air that pushes whatever is blocking your dog’s airway out. There are different adjustments you should make based on their size.

Heimlich Maneuver for Dogs

It’s helpful to have a general guide because performing the Heimlich maneuver on dogs depends on their size.

Small Dogs: Gently lift your small dog, placing one hand on their back and the other under their abdomen, right below the ribcage. Firmly thrust upward towards the ribcage in a quick, scooping motion to help dislodge the object.

Medium Dogs: For medium-sized dogs, you might find it effective to place them on your lap, face up, to perform the Heimlich. Position your hands at the base of their rib cage and push firmly upward and inward.

Large Dogs: Stand behind your large dog and wrap your arms around their belly. Make a fist and place it just under the ribcage. Push upward and inward sharply, as if you’re trying to lift the dog off the ground.

In all cases, if the initial attempts don’t free the obstruction, it’s absolutely vital to get to a vet immediately. After the object is dislodged, a veterinary examination is recommended to check for any internal injuries or remaining blockages.

After Your Dog’s Throat is Clear

After you’ve successfully cleared your dog’s airway, it’s important to keep them calm and quiet as you consider seeing a veterinarian. Even if they seem fine, a vet visit could make sure there are no hidden injuries or remaining obstructions. The vet can assess any damage to your dog’s throat or airway and provide treatment if necessary. Keep a close watch on your dog for any further signs of distress and make sure they rest in a safe, comfortable space until they are fully recovered.

After performing the Heimlich maneuver on dogs, there are several potential complications to watch for. These may include internal injuries such as bruising or tearing of the abdominal organs. There’s also the risk of damage to the trachea or other parts of the airway, which could lead to breathing difficulties later on. Additionally, if the foreign object was not completely removed, it could cause an obstruction in their gastrointestinal tract. That could be a whole different crisis, so it’s important to monitor your dog for signs of distress or pain after the incident and let your vet know if there seems to be anything ‘off’ still.

Susceptible Dogs For Choking

Certain dogs are more prone to choking, particularly those that eat quickly or are not really picky about what they chew on. Puppies and younger dogs are curious, likely to explore with their mouths, and can accidentally swallow harmful objects. Similarly, breeds with brachycephalic (short-nosed) features may also be at risk due to their unique mouth and throat structure, which can complicate chewing and swallowing. Dogs that play really rough and touch with small toys or enjoy gnawing on sticks and bones can also be at higher risk of choking. It’s a good idea to be careful if your dog fits any of these descriptions and watch during their mealtime and play time.

How to Prevent Your Dog From Choking Again

Here are some ways you can try to make sure your dog doesn’t choke again.

  1. Choose Appropriate Toys and Chews: Choose toys that match your dog’s size and chewing habits. Avoid items that could break into smaller, swallowable pieces. Regular inspections and replacements can help reduce risks. Get rid of things they could choke on, even if they’re ‘special’ toys or lovies. It’s not worth the risk.
  2. Use Special Feeding Devices: Slow-feeder bowls or puzzle feeders can help slow down dogs who eat too quickly, reducing the risk of them choking on their food.
  3. Training and Commands: Teach your dog commands like “Leave it” or “Drop it” to prevent them from picking up dangerous items. Consistent training can be crucial for dogs who are naturally curious or prone to scavenging. “Leave it” or “Drop it” can save their life!
  4. Supervise Play and Eating: Keep a close eye on your dog during playtime and meals, especially if they’ve had previous choking incidents. Immediate intervention can prevent choking if they start to play too rough or eat too greedily.
  5. Regular Home Safety Checks: Ensure your living spaces are free from small objects or debris that could be tempting and dangerous for your dog. This includes checking under furniture and in areas where small items might accumulate.

The chances that you’ll ever have to perform the Heimlich maneuver on your dog are low, but chances don’t really matter if you’re the one whose dog is choking. Knowing what to do, and how to help get whatever you need to out of your dog’s mouth can save their life. 


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