What are the signs of dog choking?

Choking is a common emergency. It’s typically caused by a foreign object getting stuck in the throat, or by objects getting wrapped tightly around the neck. Signs include extreme distress, lots of drooling and pawing at the mouth and your dog making choking sounds. Your dog may also rub his face along the ground, gag and retch. If the object is causing breathing difficulties, you may also see coughing and blue coloured skin and mucous membranes. This may eventually lead to him collapsing.

If your dog suffers from occasional bouts of coughing with periods of being fine in the middle, it’s unlikely he’s choking. Animals with objects stuck in their throats tend to become agitated and will make continuous efforts to move it.

What to do if your dog keeps trying to cough something up

Time is of the essence if there’s a breathing obstruction or constant gagging. While first aid can be tried at home, it should not delay your journey to the vets and should not be continued for more than a minute or two at most as this can be the difference between life and death.

In a choking emergency you should:

  • restrain your dog — choking dogs will struggle and potentially bite in their panic
  • carefully use a pair of scissors to cut any object wrapped around the neck
  • open the mouth and look inside
  • use a large pair of tweezers to retrieve or break any objects you can see
  • never push at an object with your fingers if it’s lodged at the back of the throat
  • never stick your fingers down the throat if no object can be seen, as this may cause damage to the delicate tissues at the back of the throat

Large objects, such as balls of rawhide, can sometimes be dislodged by placing firm pressure with both thumbs underneath the jaw at the base of the throat and pushing forwards.

Image of dog who dog keeps trying to cough something up for Vets Now article on dog choking
Choking is a common emergency and is usually caused by a foreign object getting stuck in the throat

Is there a Heimlich maneuver for dogs?

If none of the above works, you need to get to your vet as quickly as possible.

There are procedures you can carry out in the meantime as long as there are two of you.

Firstly, if your dog has collapsed and cannot breathe, you can try a variation of the Heimlich manoeuvre.

  • For small dogs, hold his back against your stomach (head up, paws down), and find the soft hollow under the ribs. Your closed fist should fit into this spot. Pull up and in two or three times, toward your own tummy, using a thrusting motion.
  • If your dog is too big to lift, place him on his side and kneel behind his back. Place your closed fist in the hollow under his rib cage, and push upward and inward sharply, in the direction of your dog’s head and your knees.

Only ever do this in serious emergency situations, as it can cause damage to the chest, and your dog will need to be checked afterwards by a vet. In most cases, getting rid of the choking obstruction allows the dog to begin breathing again on his own.


What if Heimlich maneuver doesn’t work?

Begin cardiopulmonary resuscitation at approximately 120 chest compressions per minute and continue these until you reach the veterinary practice. Whether the item is dislodged or not, a trip to the vet is necessary as there may be damage to the inside of the mouth or throat once the object is removed.

What will happen to my choking dog at the vets?

The vet will confirm whether your dog is actually choking, rather than coughing or experiencing a different respiratory condition. They may sedate your dog to reduce their distress and to make it easier to examine the mouth and throat as well as remove any object.

In a complete obstruction, the vet may perform an emergency tracheotomy — a quick procedure that allows them to pass a breathing tube from the neck straight into the windpipe. This bypasses the obstruction, allowing your pet to breathe until it’s removed. In the worst case scenario, the vet may not be able to resuscitate a dog that has stopped breathing.

I've stopped my dog choking, should I still see a vet?

It’s a good idea to have your dog checked out by the vet, even if you manage to get rid of the choking hazard. Some dogs bite their own tongue or the inside of the mouth, while the foreign object could have left abrasions. Dogs who have received the Heimlich manoeuvre must be checked for chest trauma.

Trauma to the inside of the mouth or throat can take many days to heal, and can also make it hard or painful for the dog to eat his regular food. Making the normal diet soft by running it through the blender with warm water may help. Your vet may dispense pain relief to help during the recovery period.