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Choking is a veterinary emergency that can happen when it's least expected. Knowing the steps to take can help. Here, our veterinarians share what to do if your dog or cat is choking and when to should seek emergency care for pets in Halifax, Dartmouth and HRM.

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Veterinary Emergencies: Choking Pets

Just like you, your canine or feline companion can experience moments in which they swallowed 'wrong' or took too big of a bite, which can cause choking. Many of us who have choked on food in the past know how scary this can be for everyone.

Time is of the essence if your pet's airway is blocked, and knowing the steps to take to remedy the situation can help prevent a devastating outcome. So what do you do if your cat or dog begins choking? Read on to find out.

What are the signs of choking in dogs or cats?

If your companion has a small piece of food stuck in their throat, they are likely trying to expel it. This will look as though they are coughing or heaving. You may also notice that they are having difficulties inhaling.

They may begin pawing at their head during their attempt to dislodge the food.

If your dog or cat chokes and is unable to expel the blockage, it can deprive them of oxygen and cause them to fall unconscious.

While these signs are common with choking, it is also important to remember that they can indicate a different condition or illness.

How to Help a Choking Dog or Cat

When your dog or cat shows the signs of choking mentioned above, you should first check their mouth for a foreign object or food that could be causing the blockage.

Your companion may be stressed and scared if they are choking. Our vets recommend approaching them with caution and handling them with care.

If possible, examine the inside of their mouth and use your fingers to sweep the mouth and clear away any food that they may be choking on.

What happens if you can't dislodge stuck food?

If you are unable to clear their airway of food, you will then need to take further action, including performing the Heimlich Manoeuvre or CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) if your four-legged friend becomes unresponsive.

If you are concerned your pet is choking, please proceed directly to Coastal Care Veterinary Emergency & Referral Hospital.

Performing the Heimlich Manoeuvre on Pets

Performing the Heimlich Manoeuvre on a dog or cat that is choking may help clear the airway of food or objects that have become lodged. Here are some steps for performing the Heimlich Manoeuvre on companions of all sizes:

Heimlich Manoeuvre for Cats:

  • Examine your cat's mouth for food or objects. If you are unable to clear it away, perform the Heimlich Manoeuvre.
  • Hold your cat with their back against your chest and feet hanging down.
  • Use your hands to gently but firmly push on their belly in quick, upward thrusts, about five times.
  • Check if the object has been dislodged.
  • If not, hold the cat by the back hips with their head down and sweep their mouth.
  • Firmly tap their back and sweep their mouth again.

Heimlich Manoeuvre for Small Dogs

  • Carefully hold your dog on your lap and turn them onto their back.
  • Using the palm of your hand apply pressure right beneath the rib cage.
  • Push firmly inwards and upwards 5 times in a thrusting motion.
  • Roll your dog back onto their side and check their mouth for the food or object that was causing the issue.

Heimlich Manoeuvre for Medium & Large Dogs

If your dog is standing:

  • Put your arms around them and join your hands in front of their abdomen.
  • Make a fist with your hands and firmly and swiftly push up and forward 5 times in a thrusting motion.
  • Check that the object has been fully dislodged and removed from the mouth.

If your dog is lying on the floor:

  • Place one hand on the dog's back and use the other hand to push or squeeze their abdomen upwards and forward toward the spine.
  • Sweep their mouth to ensure that their airway is clear.

Performing CPR on a Choking Cat or Dog

If your companion is unconscious and does not have an audible heartbeat you will need to begin CPR right away. Here are the steps to perform CPR on cats and dogs:

     1. Check for breathing and a heartbeat.

Listen for a heartbeat and watch your cat or dog's chest for breathing. If your pet's chest is not moving and you can't hear a heartbeat, begin chest compressions.

     2. Give chest compressions.

You will want to place your hands as follows, depending on your pet:

For cats, small dogs, and deep-chested dogs (like Irish wolfhounds, greyhounds, etc.): Place the heel of one of your hands directly over the pet’s heart and place your other hand directly over the first hand.

For barrel-chested dogs (like boxers, pugs, etc.): Place the dog on its back, place one hand over the widest part of the sternum, and place your other hand directly over the first hand. Lock your elbows, and make sure your shoulders are directly above your hands.

Then, push hard and push fast, performing approximately two compressions per second (100 - 120 compressions per minute), compressing 1/3 to 1/2 the width of your pet’s chest.

Allow the chest to fully rise again before beginning the next compression. Perform 30 chest compressions.

     3. Then give rescue breaths.

Close your cat's or dog's mouth and tilt their head back. Cover their nose with your mouth and exhale until you see the pet’s chest rise. Repeat this a second time.

     4. Continue performing CPR.

Continue a cycle of 30 chest compressions and two breaths. Perform this cycle for 2 minutes.

     5. Check for breathing and a heartbeat.

Every 2 minutes, you should stop to check if your companion is breathing or has a heartbeat.

     6. Bring your cat or dog in for emergency veterinary care.

Continue performing the steps for CPR as listed until you reach your nearest emergency veterinary hospital for care.

At Coastal Care Veterinary Emergency & Referral Hospital, our veterinarians provide emergency care for cats, dogs, and exotic pets from Halifax, Dartmouth, HRM, and across Atlantic Canada. We're here to help 24/7.

After the Airway is Clear

Even if you manage to clear your companion's airway and they are breathing normally, you should still contact your primary veterinarian to schedule an examination.

Choking can result in injuries that we may be unable to see from the outside. Your vet will be able to fully examine your four-legged companion to ensure that everything is well.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

If your dog or cat is showing signs of choking or any other emergency, contact our veterinary specialists. We are here for the urgent needs of pets across Halifax, Dartmouth, and the surrounding areas.

How to Recognize and Help a Choking Cat or Dog

Caring for Pets in Atlantic Canada

Our specialists are pleased to accept new patients by referral from primary care veterinarians. Our emergency service welcomes all clients – 24/7/365. 

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