Could My Dog Be Choking?

If you’ve ever witnessed your dog having a coughing fit, you may have wondered if there might be something stuck in their throat. Did you wonder if you needed to do the dog Heimlich maneuver? Just because your dog is coughing doesn’t necessarily mean they are choking. Let’s talk about the signs that your dog is truly choking and what you can safely do about it.

Is my dog choking or just coughing?

Many times, people confuse coughing with choking. Both look similar, but with choking, your dog will have trouble inhaling. Your dog will inhale almost normally when just coughing. It’s important to distinguish between the two because trying to give first aid to a dog that is simply coughing is dangerous.

Remember, it is rare that your pet will be actually choking and more likely that your dog is suffering from something like an upper respiratory infection. If you have any doubts, contact your veterinarian to take a look at your pet’s throat and look for a foreign object.

However, if you believe your dog truly is choking, the Veterinary Information Network (VIN)*offers these recommendations for at-home emergency care:

  • If your pet is unconscious

    • Perform a finger sweep. Open your pet’s mouth and place your finger along the inside of the mouth, sliding it down toward the center of the throat over the base of the tongue, gently sweeping toward the center to remove any foreign material. Note: If you touch something that feels like a smooth bone deep in the throat, there’s no need to be alarmed—this is Adam’s Apple.
    • Begin rescue breathing (CPR). It is performed by placing your mouth over your dog’s nose with his mouth closed. Breathe into the dog’s nose until you see the chest rise. If air is not entering the lungs, slap the chest wall firmly or perform the dog Heimlich maneuver by putting your pet on his back, placing your hands over the abdomen near the bottom of the rib cage and gently, but firmly, thrusting toward the spine. Perform a finger sweep and begin rescue breathing again. Repeat until the foreign object is out and the lungs can be inflated. Then get your dog to the veterinarian immediately.
  • If your pet is conscious

    • Stay calm and try to keep your dog calm. If your dog is overheated, you can lower your pet’s temperature with cool water applied to the ears, feet and belly, and then head to your veterinarian’s office. Only perform a finger sweep if this doesn’t upset your dog; otherwise, you might get bitten.
    • Be aware that difficulty breathing, medically known as dyspnea, is a medical emergency. Your dog may be making increased efforts to breathe and it may sound noisy or squeaky. A bluish shade to the lips or an inability to inhale or exhale are signs of severe distress and you should get your pet to the veterinarian immediately.  

It’s a great idea to keep your veterinarian’s contact information handy in case of emergencies. You can find your neighborhood Banfield Veterinarian’s contact information using our hospital locator.

*Excerpts used with permission. VIN emergency medicine folder staff. Choking. The Veterinary Information Network.  VeterinaryPartner.com. Aug. 2009. Accessed Jan. 30, 2013. www.veterinarypartner.com/Content.plx?P=A&S=0&C=0&A=346

For more information on how to handle veterinary emergencies, please visit our Emergency Care Page