Heimlich Maneuver for Dogs: What to Do if Your Dog is Choking

Since most dogs will chew on just about anything, there is a chance that something can become lodged in their throat and cause them to choke. Here, our Boulder and Westminster vets share what to do if your dog is choking, including how to perform the Heimlich maneuver. 

Signs Your Dog is Choking

One of the first signs that your dog is choking is likely to be coughing. If your dog has something stuck in their mouth or throat, they will begin to cough in an attempt to dislodge the obstruction. You may also notice that your dog is having difficulties inhaling due to the obstructed airway.

Pawing at their mouth or head, and/or appearing panicked or frantic are also signs that your dog may be choking. In severe cases, a choking dog may become unconscious. If this occurs, seek emergency vet care right away.

What to Do if Your Dog is Choking

If you notice any signs that your dog is choking, it is essential to take immediate action and not wait until you get to the vet.

Begin by checking the inside of your dog's mouth to see if any food or foreign objects are visibly lodged in your dog's mouth or throat. If you can see an obstruction, try to swipe it away with your finger to clear your dog's airway.

If you can see an object or a piece of food, but you are unable to move it, get your dog to the emergency vet as quickly as possible or try performing the Heimlich maneuver as instructed below.

If you can see a bone lodged in your dog's throat, do not try to remove it yourself. Bones can cause severe injury to your dog's throat. Get your dog to the vet as quickly and safely as possible to have the bone removed while your dog is sedated.

Heimlich Maneuver for Dogs

If you aren't able to remove the object that your dog is choking on with your fingers, the Heimlich maneuver is your next step. Depending on the size of your dog, there are two different methods:

Heimlich Maneuver For Smaller Dogs

Carefully hold your dog on your lap and turn them onto their back, then use the palm of your hand to apply pressure right beneath the rib cage and 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 Maneuver For Medium and Large Dogs

If your dog is standing, put your arms around them, so your hands join at the abdomen. Then make a fist with your hands, firmly and swiftly pushing up and forward 5 times in a thrusting motion (much like you would perform the maneuver on a human).

Doing this should dislodge the obstruction, but be sure to check the mouth for any remaining debris. Help remove any debris that may be loose in the back of your dog's mouth so they don't choke or swallow what was previously bothering him. 

If your dog is laying on the floor, place one hand on the dog's back and use the other hand to push or squeeze their abdomen upwards and forwards towards the spine, then check your dog's mouth for the offending object.

What to do After Your Dog has Stopped Choking

Even if you have managed to remove the object from your dog's throat and stop your dog from choking, it is important to contact your vet immediately. If your dog went without oxygen for any length of time, your vet may recommend hospitalization.

Choking can cause painful damage to your dog's mouth and throat that may not be immediately visible to a distressed owner. Your vet may recommend a bronchoscopy (analysis of the lungs and airways) to check your dog's throat for damage.

Preventing Choking

To prevent chances of your dog choking in the future, make sure to keep an eye on your dog when they are playing with anything that could be a potential choking hazard such as toys or bones.

Feeding your dog food that is formulated specifically for your dog's size can help to prevent choking, particularly for small breeds. Nevertheless, it is always a good idea to monitor your dog when they are eating.

If there are children in the household, be sure that their toys are kept out of your dog's reach. Children's toys can pose a serious choking risk.

When choosing toys for your dog, be sure to choose a toy that is sturdy enough to withstand your dog's level of chewing. If your dog is a more aggressive chewer, be sure to look for extra-tough chew toys designed to withstand the pressure without breaking into pieces that could get lodged in your dog's throat.  

If your dog is choking or has just recently stopped choking, call your regular vet immediately. Outside of your vet's office hours, contact our Boulder and Westminster vets for emergency care.