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208 Breeds, 422 Health Conditions  |  Find a Vet

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First Aid Condition

First aid health condition




Condition Overview

Like people, dogs and cats choke if something lodges in their throats or wind pipes. They gag, retch, and cough trying to expel the object and can become frantic when it won't move. Choking can quickly become dangerous if the trapped object cuts off the air supply.


If your dog is gagging and retching but is not experiencing difficulty in breathing, assume a foreign object such as a bone splinter or rubber ball is caught in their mouth or in the back of their throat. See: Foreign Object in throat


Dogs are affected most often because they love to play catch and chew, and pieces or toys or sticks can get caught in their throats.


Choking is evident upon observation.


If the dog collapses and is unable to breathe,

  1. place her on her side with her head down.
  2. Open her mouth, pull out her tongue as far as you can
  3. Sweep your fingers from side to side
  4. Grasp the object and remove it, if possible.
If the object cannot be easily removed, do not try to get around it with your fingers. This can force it further down the throat. Instead, proceed to the Heimlich Maneuver.

The technique varies depending on the size of your pet.

For a small dog or cat, hold his back against your stomach with his head up and his feet hanging down. Put your fist just underneath the rib cage - you can feel a soft, hollow place easily - and pull inward toward your belly and upward toward your chin at the same time. Use a strong thrusting action to help dislodge the object.

For a large dog, lay him on his side and kneel behind him so that his backbone is against your knees, with his head pointing to your left. Lean over him in a crouched position and put your right fist just below his rib cage. use you fist to push sharply upward and inward toward you knees and his head. The diaphragm will be directly below your fist, and it will help push air from the lungs up through the throat to dislodge the object. Repeat the maneuver 2 - 3 times, checking after each try to see if the object has come loose from the mouth.
  1. If the Heimlich maneuver doesn't work after a few attempts, try a thrust with an open cupped hand to your pets back - clap him on the back 3 - 4 times in a row. Be sure that his neck stays in a straight line with his back so that there are no kinks in his throat to get in the way. If this technique still doesn't dislodge the object, continue trying this and the Heimlich maneuver in the car while someone drives you to the animal hospital as soon as possible.
  2. Once the throat is clear, make sure that your pet starts breathing. If he doesn't, you may need to give artificial respiration.
    • Wrap one hand around your pet's muzzle to close his mouth
    • Place your other hand on his chest to monitor its rise and fall
    • Cover his nose with your mouth, and blow 2 quick puffs into his nose. his chest should move with the air.
    • Continue giving 15 - 20 breaths per minute until he starts breathing on his own or until you reach medical help.
*NOTE: if you don't feel the chest move with the breaths, there is still a blockage.


You can prevent choking on toys by ensuring the toys are of the appropriate size your your particular dog.


You should still seek a veterinary evaluation even if the choking hazard has been removed. They will be able to determine if the hazard has caused any other potential problems.

Show Sources & Contributors +


Dog Owners Home Veterinary Handbook

Publisher: Wiley Publishing, 2007

Website: http://www.wiley.com/WileyCDA/

Authors: Debra M. Eldredge, Liisa D. Carlson, Delbert G. Carlson, James M. Giffen MD

The First Aid Companion for Dogs And Cats

Publisher: Rodale Inc, 2001

Website: http://www.rodalebooks.com/

Authors: Amy D. Shojai, Shane Bateman DVM

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