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208 Breeds, 422 Health Conditions  |  Find a Vet

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Suffocation View In Cats

First Aid Condition

First aid health condition




Condition Overview

Suffocation, also called asphyxiation, happens when air can't get into the lungs. Cats like to play with plastic bags from the grocery store or dry cleaner, and if they aren't able to claw their way out, they can quickly suffocate. Cats also get their collars caught or become tangled in leashes.


During suffocation, a pet gasps for breath, usually with her neck extended. She will quickly lose consciousness and stop breathing, and her gums and tongue will turn blue from oxygen starvation.


A pet can suffocate if exposed to toxic fumes like smoke or carbon monoxide, if she gets a foreign object stuck in her throat, or if she suffers an open chest injury.


She will die within minutes without oxygen.


Immediate first aid is the only thing that can save your pet's life.

  1. Get her some fresh air - For smoke or carbon monoxide inhalation, the best treatment is to get your pet into clean, fresh air. Unlike other kinds of suffocation, your pet's gums and tongue will turn bright cherry red with carbon monoxide toxicity.
  2. Free her from smothering material - If your pet has been smothered in plastic, tear or cut the material from around her face before removing it from the rest of her body. Often, that is all you will need to do for your pet to resume breathing on her own. If she doesn't start breathing on her own, Perform artificial respiration and/or CPR.
  3. Remove constrictions - Use scissors or pruining shears to cut a constricting collar, leash, or other material away from your pet's throat. Cut the material at the back of your pet's neck; avoid the throat area because a slip of a sharp tool there could injure your pet even more.
  4. Clear the airway - Dogs often get objects caught in their throats and choke. Your pet can pass out and die if the object isn't quickly removed. If your can't pull the object out with your fingers or pliers (assuming it is not a sharp object), a modified Heimlich maneuver may pop it out of the airway.

    Hold a small pet with her back against your stomach, with her head up and her feet down. Put your fist in the hollow area directly under her rib cage and pull in and up toward your chin with a strong thrusting movement. For a bigger dog, kneel behind her as she lies on her side. Put your knees against her backbone, bend her over, pit your fist into the hollow under the ribs, and press sharply upward and in toward her head. Repeat the maneuver 2 - 3 times in a row, if needed, then check to see if the object has come loose in her mouth. If it hasn't, you can continue the maneuver in the car on your way to the veterinarian.
  5. Extend her neck - If your pet doesn't spontaneously begin breathing, extend her neck so her throat isn't bent, grasp her tongue, and gently pull it forward to get it out of the back of her throat, where it may block breathing. You can use gauze or cloth to help grasp the slippery tongue.
  6. Check for stopped breathing - You must begin rescue breathing if your pet doesn't start breathing on her own. Close her mouth with one hand, put your lips over her nose, and blow 2 quick breaths. Watch for her chest to expand and allow the air to escape back out. Give 15 - 20 breaths per minute until your pet starts breathing again on her own or you reach medical help.
  7. Check for a stopped heart - Feel or listen for the heartbeat with your palm or ear on the left side of her chest, right below the elbow. If the heart has stopped, give CPR, alternating 5 chest compressions for each breath.

    Put your pet on a flat, firm surface like a tabletop or floor. For cats and small dogs, cup your hand over the point of the chest just behind the elbows and squeeze firmly between your fingers and thumb, pressing in about 1/2 inch 80 - 100 times per minute.

    For larger dogs, put both hands on top of each other against the chest and compress by 25 - 50%. Give a breath into the nose after every 5 compressions until your pet revives or until you reach medical help. It's best to have someone drive you and your pet to the animal hospital while you are performing CPR.
For sucking chest wounds - Pets who have been hit by cars or shot or who have suffered other traumatic injuries can have "sucking" chest wounds. Air leaks into the chest cavity from an open wound and collapses the lungs, so the pet can't breathe and suffocates. Seal the hole in the chest by pinching the skin together over the wound. You can use plastic wrap like Saran Wrap to seal the opening until you can get your pet to medical help. See Chest Injuries.


Keep any potential suffocation hazards out of the reach of children and pets.


A pet who has inhaled caustic fumes or been strangled will have a sore throat from irritation or the constriction on her neck. A soft diet makes it easier for her to swallow. Mix her regular food in the blender with warm water or low-fat, no-salt chicken broth to make a gruel, and feed it for 3 - 5 days. Gradually return her to a regular diet by mixing the gruel with her regular food.

When your pet feels herself suffocating, she will do nearly anything to get air - even claw the constriction around the throat and tear her own flesh. Wash any lacerations with plain soap and water, and apply an antibiotic ointment to fight infection. Use the ointment 2 - 3 times a day until the wounds have scabbed and begun to heal.

Show Sources & Contributors +


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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