Choking is a serious medical condition that can quickly bring about extreme panic–both for the victim himself as well as bystanders around him. This is even true when the victim is one’s beloved canine companion, who may be choking on a toy, a bone or some other foreign object. It can be hard to know what to do in the moment when choking is occurring, but quick action is critical in mitigating any damages that may be caused.
What Actions to Take in an Instance of Choking
When a dog is choking, he will often exhibit great distress by pawing at his mouth, rubbing his face on the ground, gagging, retching, salivating, coughing, and even collapsing. He may also suffer from cyanosis, where his mucous membranes take on a bluish hue due to lack of sufficient oxygen in the blood. It is important to recognize that a dog who is not choking may cough intermittently, paw at his mouth or rub his face, but not as persistently and with such obvious distress as a dog who is actively choking.
Obviously, any living thing that is choking needs to be aided as rapidly as possible in order to restore sufficient oxygen flow to their blood and prevent potential brain damage. If your dog is choking you may desire to get him to the veterinarian as quickly as possible, but immediate action must be taken first as even two minutes can mean the difference between life and death. Following are the best actions to take immediately:
● Gently but firmly restrain your dog. The thrashing of a panicked dog can result in harm for him as well as others around him, so an important first step is to restrain him.
● Use scissors to remove any objects that are wrapped around the neck. While choking is more often caused by objects in the throat, it can also be caused by something like a string or rope that is wrapped around the neck. If the latter is true, you should quickly cut the item away from their neck.
● If external objects have been removed and the dog is still choking or there were no external objects, open their mouth and look inside. Large objects may be successfully dislodged with a pair of tweezers or even broken in half so as to relieve the pressure on the throat. However, if the object is lodged in the back of the throat, you should not push at it as this may only serve to lodge it even deeper and more firmly. You should try to pull it forward with tweezers instead. If you cannot see any object at all, do not stick your fingers down your dog’s throat to search for it. The tissue at the back of their throat is delicate and can be easily damaged.
● Use an external, forward pressure to try and dislodge large objects that cannot be removed by tweezers. Using both your thumbs, firmly press under the jaw at the base of the throat and push forwards.
● If your dog is still choking, get him in the car to take him to the vet. It is best to have at least two people in the car with your dog–one to drive and another to tend to the dog. If your dog is collapsed and can no longer breathe on his own, perform the Heimlich maneuver as follows: in a small dog, hold him with his back against your stomach and find the soft hollow under his ribs. Using your closed fist in this hollow, pull up and in toward your own tummy two or three times with a thrusting motion. In a large dog, lay him on his side and kneel behind him, placing your closed fist in the hollow under his rib cage. Pushing upward and inward sharply, thrust in the direction of the dog’s head. If the obstruction is successfully cleared, the dog should be able to breathe again on his own. If he doesn’t, begin CPR with about one hundred twenty chest compressions per minute until you reach the veterinarian.
If you are unable to remove a lodged object before reaching the veterinarian, he will most likely first confirm that your dog is actually choking before sedating them. In cases where an object is completely obstructing airflow, the veterinarian may need to perform an emergency tracheotomy in order to help your dog to breathe while the object is removed.
Even if you successfully remove the object that your dog was choking on, and especially if they had considerable trouble with the object, you should still check in with your veterinarian in order to determine whether there has been any damage to the inside of your dog’s mouth and throat. Additionally, any time you perform the Heimlich maneuver the victim’s chest must be checked for trauma and damage, such as broken ribs. You may need to soften your dog’s food with warm water for several days following a choking spell, and your vet may even prescribe some pain relieving medication to assist them in fully recovering.