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Emergencies can happen when they are least expected. Knowing what to expect can improve the outcome. Here, our veterinarians in Halifax share the signs and causes of choking in dogs, how to perform the Heimlich manoeuvre and when to seek emergency care.

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Unexpected Dangers: Choking Dogs

While you can't predict when accidents or emergencies will happen, you can be prepared. Knowing what to do can save you time and give your furry friend the best chance of an ideal outcome. 

One emergency that can occur suddenly is choking. This is one of the most common emergencies among dogs, as they spend a lot of time chewing on objects. By ensuring the things they chew on are dog-safe, you can reduce the risk of injuries.

Even so, the unexpected may happen. Read on to learn about how to help a choking dog.

The Signs of Choking

Some of the most common signs displayed by choking dogs include:

  • Distress
  • Pawing at the mouth
  • Excessive salivation
  • Coughing
  • Gagging or retching
  • Blue skin (cyanosis)
  • Rubbing their face against the ground

If your dog begins to show any of the signs listed above, please bring them to our emergency veterinary hospital right away.

Causes of Choking in Dogs

It can be difficult to tell the difference between choking and coughing, especially in a high-anxiety situation. An easy way to tell is that when choking, your dog may be unable to take a breath. When a dog is coughing, they are taking in air before expelling it again making the sound that you hear.

Some of the most common causes of choking in dogs include:

  • Bones
  • Balls (sports balls, toy balls, etc.)
  • Children’s plastic toys
  • Sticks
  • Swelling of the throat
  • Collapsing trachea (windpipe)
  • Tumor in the throat area

If your dog is choking, you need to seek emergency veterinary care immediately. This is a life-threatening emergency.

What to Do If Your Dog Is Choking

Contact your primary care veterinarian or our emergency veterinary hospital right away if your dog is choking. A veterinarian will provide you with detailed directions for this emergency.

These instructions may include carefully opening your dog's mouth and pulling the tongue forward to see if the object is visible and within reach. Then, if possible, you can attempt to remove the object using your fingers in a sweeping motion. Be careful not to push it further into the airway.

How to Do the Heimlich Manoeuvre on a Dog

If you cannot successfully and safely remove the object, you will need to perform the Heimlich manoeuvre.

Heimlich Manoeuvre for Small Dogs

  1. Carefully hold your dog on your lap and turn them onto their back.
  2. Using the palm of your hand, apply pressure right beneath the rib cage.
  3. Push firmly inwards and upwards five times in a thrusting motion.
  4. 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

Standing dogs:

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

Dogs who are lying down:

  1. 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.
  2. Sweep their mouth to ensure that their airway is clear.

What to Do After the Choking Has Stopped

It is important to contact your primary care veterinarian anytime your dog has been choking, especially if they've been unconscious at any point. If it is after hours, you can contact our emergency animal hospital in Halifax. Our team may recommend you bring your dog in for an evaluation to ensure there is no permanent damage or complications due to the choking.

This is because foreign objects have the potential to cause a throat injury that may lead to other serious outcomes. The veterinarians will also ensure that the lungs and airway are free of any other foreign material. They may use X-rays to check the lungs for fluid accumulation or the abdomen for ingested foreign objects.

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 is choking or showing any other concerning signs, contact our emergency veterinarians right away. We provide care 24/7 for cats, dogs and exotic pets from across Halifax, Dartmouth and the Maritimes.

Heimlich Manoeuvre For Dogs: What To Do If My Dog Is Choking

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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