Ask the Vet: How to Help a Choking Dog?
Dr. Ivana Crnec
In order to help a choking dog, you firstly need to not panic. Panicking is something that can greatly interfere with helping your dog and getting the right type of help when your dog needs it the most. Knowing what to do in advance can help you think clearly and stay on task. Veterinarian Dr. Ivana shares tips of how to help a choking dog.
The Risks of Choking in Dogs
Choking is a potential killer that can impact any dog. Choking can result from any injury or condition that causes the airway to become either partially or completely blocked. In most cases, it occurs when a dog swallows a foreign object.
In unconscious dogs, it can occur if the dog vomits and the fluid blocks the throat. Choking can also result from an insect bite or sting in the mouth or from an extreme allergic reaction called anaphylactic shock that causes the throat tissues to swell.
Another possible cause is injury to the muscles of the throat and neck. Again, the bruised tissues may swell and press on the airway.
If your dog is choking, do not wait for veterinary help, because the dog is in danger of suffocating. Keep in mind that choking is frightening for dogs. Even an otherwise calm dog may be prone to biting.
Signs a Dog is Choking
A bout of reverse sneezing in dogs shouldn't be confused with choking. Choking dogs will show the following signs which may vary based on whether there is a partial or complete blockage.
Signs of a Dog Choking From a Partially Blocked Windpipe
A dog with a partially blocked windpipe will show the following signs:
• Mild distress
• Gagging but not breathing difficulty
• Pawing at the mouth
• Rubbing the face off of the ground
• Unpleasant breath.
If you see the above listed signs, look for any obstructions in the mouth.
Signs of a Dog Choking From a Completely Blocked Windpipe
A dog with a completely blocked windpipe will show the following signs:
• Obvious distress
• Choking sounds
• Pawing at the mouth
• Bulging eyes
• Blue tongue
If you see the above listed signs, give immediate first aid for choking.
How To Help a Choking Dog That is Conscious
When dealing with choking in a conscious dog, start by restraining the dog. If the dog is small, you can wrap it in a towel while leaving its head visible.
If the dog is large, you can restrain it by backing it into your legs. If it is possible, ask someone else to help and hold on to the dog while you examine the mouth and remove the obstruction.
The easiest way of opening the mouth is by grasping the upper jaw with one hand and pressing the upper lip over the upper teeth. Draw the lower jaw down with your free hand.
To pry the object off the teeth or away from the roof of the mouth, you can use a pair of tweezers or the blunt end of a spoon.
How to Help a Choking Dog That is Unconscious
Giving first aid for choking to an unconscious dog is much more challenging than in a conscious dog. If the dog is small to medium-sized, hold it by its thighs in an upside down position and gently shake it for up to 10 seconds. The movement of the body and gravity should help to dislodge the blockage.
If this measure does not help, or if dealing with a dog that is too large for you to lift, lay the dog on its side. Use one hand to support its back and the other hand to grasp its abdomen just behind the rib cage.
If the dog is very big, lay it on its back and place both hands underneath its rib cage. Thrust in and upward twice, towards the throat. Do this carefully so that you do not put excessive pressure on the belly and ribs.
The next step would be to check the dog’s mouth. If there is a visible obstruction, sweep your fingers and remove the object. If there is a thread, string or fishing line in the mouth, however, do not pull it in case it is attached to another object lodged further down the digestive tract. If the dog continues choking, start with artificial respiration.
If there is remaining debris inside the windpipe, give two breaths of artificial respiration, then two more thrusts to help dislodge it and then re-check the mouth.
It is recommended to check the pulse every few cycles and give CPR if necessary. Repeat until the dog coughs out the obstruction and breathes. If artificial respiration and CPR is necessary at any stage, get immediate veterinary attention once you have stabilized your dog.
When treating a choking dog, take care that the object blocking the airway, and your first-aid action does not cause further damage.
Take extra care when performing chest thrusts – extreme pressure on the belly can damage the liver and cause internal bleeding. Extreme pressure on the chest can fracture the ribs.
If you can see thread, string, or fishing line in the mouth, do not pull it because it could be fixed to an object inside the throat or even inside the stomach.
Is a Gagging Dog in Danger of Choking to Death?
Gagging may be one sign of choking, but the two conditions are actually different. A dog that is gagging will cough, splutter and retch with its mouth open. This behavior may be due to an object stuck at an awkward angle inside the mouth or throat. The dog will be in discomfort, but is likely to remain alert.
Choking, on the other hand, is always due to partial or complete obstruction of the airway. As well as gagging, the dog may have breathing difficulties. In severe cases, dogs lose consciousness and stop breathing altogether.
If a dog is gagging on an object that is loose and easy to reach, the problem can easily be solved by removing the object. Choking, however, is serious and needs emergency action.
How to Prevent Dogs From Choking?
Inside the home, the easiest way to protect your dog is to make sure that it does not develop a habit of chewing everything. Take particular care if you have a puppy or an active, inquisitive dog.
Train it not to chew – this may turn harder than it sounds and if that is your case, do not hesitate to ask for professional help. Aim to train your dog the leave it and drop it command.
Provide safe toys and dog chews that are large enough to not to get lodged in the airway, and that will not splinter when the dog bites them.
In addition, never leave small, chewable articles in any place where your dog can reach them, and never leave your dog alone for long periods so that it becomes bored and destructive.
When exercising your dog outside, keep an eye on him and discourage him from picking up and chewing items such as pieces of bone or wood.
About The Author
Dr. Ivana Crnec is a graduate of the University Sv. Kliment Ohridski’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Bitola, Republic of Macedonia.