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What to Do If Your Dog Is Choking

The author is a lifelong animal lover with a B.S. in biology.

Sometimes chewing on things or eating too fast can cause dogs to choke.  Knowing how to react if your dog starts choking can save your dog's life!

Sometimes chewing on things or eating too fast can cause dogs to choke. Knowing how to react if your dog starts choking can save your dog's life!

Can Dogs Choke?

My Papillon Kitsune, like most dogs, loves to eat. Unfortunately, he has a bad habit of eating too fast and gulping down his food before he's chewed it properly. This has led to quite a few scares when he would have to stop eating to hack up a chunk of food that was caught in his throat. My heart stops every time this happens. I do my best to monitor his food and eating to prevent him from choking, but the fact of the matter is that dogs can choke on just about any food. Everything from regular kibble to uneatable objects can pose a potential choking risk, especially to dogs who feel that chewing food is overrated.

Hopefully most dog owners will never have to experience the sheer terror of watching their best friend choke. It is, however, important to remember that choking is something that can happen to any dog. Knowing beforehand how to react if your dog starts choking can save your dog's life!

What to Do When Your Dog Is Choking

  • If your dog appears to be choking but is making an effort to cough up the object himself, watch him closely and give him time to try to remove the object himself. Remember that if your dog can still cough, then he can breathe as well.
  • If the dog is struggling to get the object up himself, or starts to show signs of impaired breathing such as wheezing, gasping for air, general struggling, and/or pawing at the mouth, then it's time to intervene. The first step that sometimes works is to open your dog's mouth and look to see if you can see the object that is causing the choking. Sometimes you may be able to see the object near the back of the dog's mouth. Be very careful trying to pull the object out, choking dogs will usually be stressed and will be more prone to bite. It's also possible that when trying to remove the object, you could push it further into the throat and cause more harm than good. Only attempt to remove the object by hand if you feel comfortable doing so, and the object appears like it will be easy to grasp and remove.
  • If you cannot remove the object by hand, the next step is to let gravity help. If you have a small or medium-sized dog, pick them up and hold them upside down. Sometimes the force of gravity will help to remove the object. If you have a large dog that you cannot fully lift up, let the dog keep his front paws on the ground but lift up the dog's hind legs and hold him tilted forward like you would a wheelbarrow.
  • If this doesn't work either, the next step is to try back blows. This is exactly what it sounds like. With the palm of your hand, give the dog four or five sharp blows between the shoulder blades.
  • The next thing to try is the Heimlich maneuver. The Heimlich maneuver is performed on dogs almost the same way it is on humans. Make sure your dog's head is pointed down, form a fist with one hand and cover the fist with your other hand. Place your two hands on your dog's belly, in the soft spot directly under his ribcage. Quickly thrust your hands inwards and upwards at the same time. The idea is to firmly press on your dog's lungs to force air out in a quick burst, which will hopefully have enough force to drive the object out of his throat.

Some owners worry that they may hurt their dogs while doing the Heimlich maneuver. If done incorrectly, the Heimlich maneuver can fracture ribs or rarely cause internal damage. These issues are usually less serious than the fact that your dog is choking. After your dog is breathing normally and not at risk of choking to death, then you can worry about any secondary problems. Normally, injuries such as fractured ribs can be treated successfully after your dog's life has been saved.

Once the object is removed from your dog's throat, closely monitor your dog to make sure that he is breathing normally. If your dog does not begin breathing normally on his own, you may need to start artificial respiration. If your dog does not have a pulse, begin CPR. Even if your dog does seem perfectly fine, it's a good idea to get him/her to a vet for a check-up, just to make sure everything is okay.

Pet owners should know ahead of time how to deal with emergencies such as a choking pet. Hopefully most dog owners will never have to use these techniques on their dog, but in the event that your dog does ever choke, knowing how to react quickly and calmly can mean the difference between life and death for your best friend.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.


. on February 18, 2020:

My Dog was choking on a whole potatoe for a couple minutes. Absolutly no air was getting to his lungs. After trying the Heimlich and various other methods, my Dad stuck his arm down his throat and pushed the potatoe through. My Dog had tears pouring out of it's eyes. He seemed to be in shock for a but returned to it's usual playful and begging behaviors after a couple minutes. on March 15, 2016:

Thanks so much for your help and advice and support . I have a Jack Russell . His name is Snoopy . He is a rescue dog . I believe that he rescued me ! God sent him to me,When I found out that I have heart disease . I LOVE SNOOPY very much . I don't know how I managed before he came into my life . Thank-You Lord for sending him to me. I am truly blessed and grateful . What a wonderful BLESSING he is to me.Thanks for SHARING and CARING!

arlene on December 21, 2013:

Twice 2 of my dogs stopped breathing first max with large lump of cheese he collapsed and went solid but got him back and 7 week puppy with biscuits but managed to get her back its awfull hands get mauled but at least dogs come through :)

HomeDIY on May 23, 2012:

Never thought about having to use this but glad I read it so I am prepared if I have to, great article!

Dragonrain (author) on May 17, 2012:

Wow, that must have been so scary! I'm so glad to hear that your Yorky is ok!

taline on May 16, 2012:

thank you so much my little yorky was choking finally my husband saved his life by holding him upside down it took him good 10 minutes to save my beautiful dog.we both cried after so hard .

Barbara Badder from USA on March 06, 2012:

I love your dog's photo at the top. Good article.

pat on March 06, 2012:

Once my poodle came in choking and run under my bed.It was time for me to go to work.She seemed to know it.I was pondering what to.She came to me and laid down on her back.I felt the roof of her mouth.there was a flat chicken bone stuck between her her jaws.I was turned it sideways and got it out. How did that dog to give up and come to me?

Sheila Brown from Southern Oklahoma on March 06, 2012:

Great information to know. I have a dog that thinks chewing is "over rated". She gulps her food like it is going to run away from her. This may come from a prior owner. I am glad to know what to do. Thank you for this good information. Voted up,useful and sharing on my FB. :)

Dragonrain (author) on March 06, 2012:

Thanks for reading and commenting!

I hope you never have to use it too, but it's a good thing to know just in case. :) Glad that your dog was ok after the rawhide incident!

Jaye Denman from Deep South, USA on March 06, 2012:

Thanks so much for the lesson. I hope I never have to use it, but it's better to be prepared than not. My dog also seems to believe chewing is over-rated!

When she was younger, a relative gave her one of those large round disc-shaped rawhide chews (against my better judgment), and it became stuck in her jaws. She seemed frantic, though able to breathe, so I risked the possibility of being bitten and wrested it from inside her mouth. No more of those things! I don't take chances.

However, one can never be certain a dog won't find something that's not meant to be food and try to eat it or even just chew on it, so your information about what to do if a dog chokes is great. Again, thanks.