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How to Save a Choking Dog's Life

Updated on March 21, 2016
DrMark1961 profile image

Dr Mark is a small animal veterinarian. He works mostly with dogs and exotic animals.

Roll the lips over the top canine teeth before reaching into the mouth. This deters the dog from biting down.
Roll the lips over the top canine teeth before reaching into the mouth. This deters the dog from biting down.

How to Save Your Dog's Life

If your dog is choking, and you want to save his life, you do not have time to look in the phone book for the name of the closest emergency vet.

This is what you need to do to save a choking dog:

  • Open your dog's mouth, being sure to roll the fleshy part of his muzzle over his canine teeth. Doing this means if the dog bites down, he will put pressure on his own skin, so he will be unlikely to close his mouth.
  • If you have someone with you, tell that person to shine a flashlight down into the dog's mouth.
  • If you see the object your dog is choking on, just reach in and pull it out. (If you think this is gross, get over it. Dog spit washes off.) If you cannot see it, you are unlikely to get it out and may push it down even deeper by trying.
  • If you cannot see the object, move around behind your dog, put your hands underneath his belly, and lift him up, leaving his front feet on the ground. (See photo below.) (If you have another person with you, they should hold the dog's head because this is uncomfortable and the dog may try to bite.)
  • You can also try striking your dog on the back (between the shoulder blades) with the flat of your hand.
  • Keep checking the dog's mouth to see if the object has been dislodged and you can grab it.
  • If your dog is still pawing at his mouth and choking, you can move your hands up from his belly to his solar plexus (where his abdomen stops and his rib cage starts, on the midline). Clasp your hands together like a fist and pull up, hard, three times. (Unless you have a small dog, in which case you want to use just a few fingers so that you will not break his ribs.) If nothing happens, do it three times, again.

Note: Do not follow the bad advice given at other websites and stick a pair of pliers or tweezers down in your dog´s mouth. If he jerks his head when you are shoving a foreign object down his throat, you may end up cutting his mouth or puncturing his larynx. Lacerations in the mouth bleed profusely and sometimes do not stop. If you damage his larynx, he may not be able to breathe.

Note: There is a chance you will be bitten trying to save your dog´s life. You will have to do what you think is right—I cannot make this decision for you.

Reach in and pull the object out if you can see it.
Reach in and pull the object out if you can see it.

If You Can't Dislodge the Object

  • If the object still will not come out, and your dog loses consciousness, you must reach down and find the obstruction. At this point don't stop to worry about pushing the object further down his throat. If you are not able to clear your dog´s airway, he will probably die.
  • If your dog stops breathing, you have a small chance of getting him going again. Even if his heart stops beating, he still has little chance of making it. CPR will not usually keep a patient alive; despite what you may have seen in movies or on TV, it only works in about 5-10% of humans, and it works even less for dogs. However, CPR will restore partial blood flow until the heart can be started again, so if you live close to an emergency clinic, you have a chance to get him there before your dog suffers serious and permanent brain damage.

Lift your dog up by the abdomen to help him spit up the object.
Lift your dog up by the abdomen to help him spit up the object.

Training Your Dog to Allow a Mouth Inspection

If you haven't trained your dog to feel comfortable having his mouth inspected, you'll have trouble helping him stop choking. If you have not already trained your dog to allow this, you need to do so right away.

If your dog is still young, read this article on training your puppy to be handled.

If you have a Presa Canario or one of the other large breeds with strong jaws, training may be impossible, but you should try to use classical counterconditioning to get your dog used to being handled.

What to Do After You've Cleared the Object

Unless you live next door to an emergency clinic that never closes, you need to keep a first aid kit on hand and learn how to take care of choking and other problems yourself.

One tool that I recommend every dog owner keep on hand is a stethoscope. They are inexpensive and easy to become familiar with. Take a look at the stethoscope here or look for one at a local pet superstore.

Even if you are comfortable listening to your dog´s normal chest sounds, be sure to take your dog to an emergency vet after the incident is over. His mouth may be scratched up, larynx damaged, ribs may be broken, and he may have even vomited and aspirated (which will lead to pneumonia).

After the incident, take your dog to the vet to check for fluid on the lungs.
After the incident, take your dog to the vet to check for fluid on the lungs.

How to Prevent Your Dog from Choking

The only way to prevent this from ever happening is to remove all of your dog´s toys, feed her only small kibble or wet food, make sure she never gets a bone, and remove everything but the walls and floor from your house. In other words, it's not possible.

If choking does happen, though, do everything you can to avoid your dog losing consciousness and collapsing. Even if I were to be bitten reaching down my dog´s throat, I think her life is worth it. I hope you feel the same about your dog.


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    • Gloria 7 months ago

      Thank you so much for your post on choking. My Westie stopped breathing and went limp as I tried to dislodge a piece of pork cutting off her airway. I had no other choice but to reach down beyond the obstruction to lift it out. Thanks to your information, I was able to save her. I took her to the pet er and they gave her a clean bill of health.

    • Constance Caron 10 months ago

      Not only does my dog bark excessively. Also, has severe crying, howling loud when I leave for appointments I am disabled so I am home every day with her. When it cool I take her with me she patiently waits in the car. I live in Arizona so not to many cool days.

      Kindest regards,


    • shiloahshouse 10 months ago

      I love how everyone here says they wouldnt hesitate to do anything to save their baby and how much they love them.. i hope everyone reads this.. please give your dog something else to chew on besides rawhide.. goggle it and see what you come up with .. they are poison not to mention dogs choke on them easily... when i found out what was in rawhide chews i never again gave them to my babies..a while ago my cocker spaniel was eating one and started choking.. i just reacted.. shoved my hand down his throat and grabbed took hrs for my heart to calm down.. when you almost lose your baby right in front of your eyes its a nightmare...especially something as simple as watching what your dog eats and what you give them to eat...have a glorious day and dont forget to give your baby a kiss goodnight... everynight..yes....

    • Sheila 11 months ago

      You should always keep some Charcoal biscuits on hand.a friends dog liked some anti freeze and he fed him some biscuits and by the time he got to the vet he was better, the vet said it probably saved his life.

    • Carrie adams 14 months ago

      Thank you, i saved my toy poodle years ago by doing the HEIMLICH which is described here. He lived into his 17th year. No more steal8ng hard Christmas candy!

    • Laura 16 months ago

      I unfortunately gave my 15lb jack russell a piece of chicken that was too large for her one night. She began to choke, and being a healthcare worker, she gave me the classic sign of panic in the eyes and I knew I had to act fast. I pried her mouth open, couldn't see it and her eyes began to bug out more, I grabbed her and knelt down with her belly on my arm that was braced by my knee/leg and supported her head and neck with that arm's hand, gave her about 3 "back blows" with a flat hand (just as you are taught for a choking human infant), and it expelled the chicken. One of the biggest rushes I have ever had, especially since she is truly my baby. She was ok, but I felt horrible, but thankful for my human CPR training. The article says this tactic may not work, but it really does for small dogs when angled downward as you would with an infant

    • Alexis 16 months ago

      Thank you SO MUCH for posting these instructions. My dogs are my kids and I would do anything to save them. Thank you again!

    • DrMark1961 profile image

      DrMark1961 2 years ago from The Beach of Brazil

      Hi Clare, it would work on cats too but they are much harder to hold on to. To keep them still when doing a procedure like opening the mouth, you usually have to scruff them, so you do not have one hand to open the mouth and the other to reach in with. Most cats would need two people to do this, but if it were my cat and he were choking I would definitely try to help.

    • Clare 2 years ago

      Do you think this would work on cats, if you treated them as small dogs?

    • DrMark1961 profile image

      DrMark1961 2 years ago from The Beach of Brazil

      Thanks Dan, I certainly would not hesitate! I apprecitate the comment.

    • Danext profile image

      Dan Lema 2 years ago from Tanzania

      This is very interesting hub, very informative and useful....i don't think someone who wants to save their dogs life would think twice doing these tips. At this point nothing is disgusting to save a man's bestfriend's life. You can go so far for your most loyal friend......thanks for the tips; great hub!!

    • Batwing 2 years ago

      Thank you so much for this! I have a collie x springer called bailey and he likes to chew and swallow everything! He has only 1 toy he can't destroy and that's his kong, so I ration out bones, chews and toys or he would demolish them all at once, you would be amazed what I find when picking up his number 2s, bits of plastic and everything. He swallowed an ice lolly stick whole once and I was concerned it would cause a blockage, I followed advice I found online and fed him 5 slices of bread to move it through the digestive tract, it came out whole the next day thankfully. If you haven't done one already I would like to see an article on the dangers of mould. My dog has eaten plenty things he shouldn't and always been fine, but he ate a mouldy loaf he dragged from the bin, it had turned completely to mould, it had been in the bin for about a week, and he had toxic poisoning, never seen him act so strange, shaking violently and looking around weirdly, luckily I managed to get him to be sick and fed him lots of water to keep getting more to come up and he was right as rain within 24hrs, but that was the scariest night of my life, I thought I was going to lose him. It is worth keeping something in your medicine cabinet that will make a dog sick. I thought I knew everything that dogs couldn't eat but had never heard of mould being so dangerous, it can cause fits, overheating and even death. He has to be watched like a hawk, and my hands are always in his mouth trying to get back things he's stolen so I feel quite safe putting my hands in, I wouldn't even hesitate.

    • Mark 2 years ago

      One other way not mentioned here is to glide your fingers up the throat, towards the mouth. That way you might push the obstruction upwards from the OUTSIDE.

      Has been done before, by a vet. So you basically squeeze his throat underneath the obstruction, then glide up, still squeezing. that can help push the object up.

    • Tracy A. 2 years ago

      This just happened to my dog. I just instinctively put my hand down his throat and pulled out the piece of black walnut hull (that he picked up off the ground) out of his throat, and yes my hand was covered in thick slimy dog slobber and my other hand had teeth marks where he was trying to bite down as I was trying to keep his mouth pried open. I would do it again in a heartbeat if I had to to save his life again.

    • DrMark1961 profile image

      DrMark1961 2 years ago from The Beach of Brazil

      I am glad things worked out for both of you!

    • Solaras profile image

      Solaras 2 years ago

      My dogs "inhale" their food, they are so anxious to consume it. Tonight my precious Cave really did inhale his food, and your article on how to save a choking dog saved him.

      I was feeding the dogs, and heard a heavy wheezing sound. Cave was making quick short breaths with a high wheezing gasp. I pulled Cave out of his crate, and gave him the doggie Heimlich maneuver that you recommended, then he coughed several times, swallowed heavily and stopped wheezing.

      I don't know what I would have done if I had not read your article. Thank you - this is my darling baby boy, and you are my hero! I shared your article on FB a month or so ago and will share it again. I think anyone who cares about their pets should do so as well.

      Thank you again!!!!!

    • DrMark1961 profile image

      DrMark1961 2 years ago from The Beach of Brazil

      Thanks for sharing, Solaras. The "model" is my dog with the unusual name, which is Ajej, "sandstorm" in Moroccan Arabic. She is a luna-tic too, and a lot of fun.

    • Solaras profile image

      Solaras 2 years ago

      Great info here Dr. Mark; I never thought about wrapping his lips over his teeth to protect yourself when reaching into a panicked dogs mouth. Shared and Thumbs up!

    • Bob Bamberg profile image

      Bob Bamberg 3 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Welcome back, Chicken Lips, pass the salt, please :)

    • DrMark1961 profile image

      DrMark1961 3 years ago from The Beach of Brazil

      Thanks for reading! I know your dogs would never bite you, just like mine, but I can tell from your articles about them that you would forgive an accident, even if it happened.

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