Pet First Aid: Choking


What to do in the vital first minutes after an accident

In our series on pet first aid, we will be detailing the various accidents that could happen to your pet in your home, or while out and about, and what you can do immediately to treat the wound and limit the damage before heading to the vet.

In our third article in the series, we tackle choking.

Dogs are chewers – and curious creatures too. Put the two together and choking can become a serious reality if you’re not careful. What you do in the minutes after your dog starts to choke could make the difference between life and death.

The most common objects that dogs can choke on are:

  • Small balls (golf or squash balls)
  • Children’s toys
  • Their own chew toys that have become swollen due to moisture
  • Bones


By definition, choking is when “(a person or animal) has severe difficulty breathing because of a constricted or obstructed throat or a lack of air”. Firstly, you need to ascertain if your dog is actually choking. If he has periods of coughing, followed by normal breathing, he is not choking and trying to dislodge an object could cause more damage.

Signs your dog is choking

  • Starts panicking and making retching sounds
  • Pawing at the mouth
  • Coughing and wheezing uncontrollably
  • Gagging and drooling excessively
  • Blue or grey gums
  • Unresponsiveness
  • Unconsciousness


What to do if your dog is choking

If you have ascertained your dog is definitely choking, follow these steps.

  1. Firstly, restrain him. Your dog will be panicking and a panicked dog could cause you serious harm.
  2. Open the jaw, taking care to cover the teeth with his lips to prevent injury to yourself. Use one hand for the upper jaw and the other for the lower.
  3. Look for the obstruction – you might need to get someone to shine a torch in his mouth.
  4. If you can, remove the obstruction with your fingers, taking care not to cause any damage to the dog’s mouth or throat (or yourself!)
  5. You can try using a blunt object (such as a spoon handle) to dislodge the object.
  6. Even if breathing continues as normal, it’s best to consult your vet to ensure no damage was done.

If you are unable to dislodge the object immediately:

  1. Lift the dog by his hips and swing him from side to side. If he’s too big to lift, hold his feet (like a wheelbarrow) and see if gravity will help.
  2. If this doesn’t work, give four to five sharp strikes between the shoulder blades. Be careful with smaller dogs as you risk breaking bones.
  3. If the object is still not dislodged, consider doing the Heimlich manoeuvre:
    • In smaller dogs, hold them with the spine against your tummy, head up. In larger dogs, place him on his side and kneel behind his back
    • Form a fist with one hand, thumb towards you, and wrap the fingers of your other hand over the fist
    • Thrust your hands quickly inwards and upwards 3 – 5 times, repeating up to 5 times
    • Take care not to use too much force (in smaller dogs, rather use fingers than your whole fist), because you risk breaking a rib.
  4. Once the object is removed, check if your dog is breathing. If not, start CPR (cardio-pulmonary resuscitation).
  5. Take him to the vet as soon as possible.

Prevent your dog from choking

The age-old saying rings true; prevention is better than cure. To prevent dogs from choking, keep a watchful eye on them when they are chewing (especially if they are puppies and their airways are still small). Don’t let them play with small objects and always cut up food and gristle. Bones (especially T-bones) can cause choking so it’s best to avoid giving these at all, as tempting as it may be.

As with all advice on these pages, if possible, consult your veterinarian first when it comes to any emergency.

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