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What to do if Your Pet is Choking

pet-chokingAlthough a relatively uncommon situation, pets can choke on many objects just like people.  Choking typically occurs when an attempt is made to rapidly ingest food, a treat or another object and instead of going down the esophagus, the object suddenly blocks the airway.

What are the signs of choking?

When a dog or cat is actually choking, they will not make any noise, have a panicked look on their face, and they often scratch or paw at their face and mouth.  Within minutes their gums and tongue will turn blue and they may pass out, lie on their side and not be able to breathe.  An animal that is coughing or gagging is likely not choking.

What might my dog be choking on?

Every pet owner should be aware of common objects around the house that may be choking hazards.  Anything the size of a dime or larger can potentially cause an airway obstruction:  small toys (particularly small balls, like racquetballs), rawhide chew toys, apple cores, treats, pieces of carrots, etc.  It is also important to be aware that if a collar or leash becomes entangled or caught on something, it may cause an animal to choke.  A break-away collar should be used for any cat that is allowed outdoors unsupervised to prevent this.

What do I do if my pet is choking on an object?

The Heimlich maneuver can be performed on pets, just like on people.  If an animal is lying on its side, unconscious, place both hands over the widest part of the chest and thrust downwards firmly in a quick “cough-like” motion.  This will dislodge the object from the upper airway.  It won’t send it flying across the room, but it should dislodge it enough that you can carefully sweep the back of the throat with your fingers or use a pair of kitchen tongs to remove the object. With large pets, who may still be conscious, you can perform the Heimlich maneuver just like on people, standing behind the pet, put your hands in fist form and, just under the rib cage, push up and forward in a quick “cough-like” motion.

I’ve dislodged the object…what now?

If your pet is still not breathing, wrap your hands around the muzzle and form a tight seal between their nose and your lips, and give several mouth-to-nose breaths.  You should do this while transporting your pet to the emergency veterinarian.  Even if your pet is revived and seems normal, you should visit a veterinarian immediately.  Many things can occur after choking such as accumulation of fluid in the lungs or swelling of the brain.

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