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Choking is a common hazard in dogs. Dogs will chew and try to eat almost anything — from backyard sticks to socks from a laundry basket. Sometimes dogs choke not on a harmful object but on things they are supposed to be chewing, such as rawhides and toys. Dogs can even choke on treats or a piece of food from trying to scarf it down too fast.
Knowing the signs of choking in dogs will allow pet parents to act fast. Pet parents should know what to do if their dog is choking, whether that be to help their choking dog or to take their dog immediately to an emergency vet.
A dog may signal that they are choking by coughing, gagging, and pawing at the mouth. They may also display more silent symptoms like blue gums or falling unconscious, especially if they are experiencing a complete obstruction of the airway.
Heavy coughing from a dog while they are at the food dish could mean they are having difficulty swallowing food items, or it could mean they are choking. There are also specific foods that dogs should avoid that may contribute to a hacking cough. Check to see if any of these foods may be the culprit. Pet parents want to include their pets in their lives, even during holiday feasts. However, there are foods that can and can't be shared with dogs.
Additionally, many pet parents mistake what is actually a reverse sneeze for a hacking cough or choking. A reverse sneeze is when a dog repeatedly and rapidly inhales air, so a sneeze in reverse. It sounds like aggressive and extravagant wheezing and looks like heaving. This does not require immediate medical attention but can be addressed with a veterinarian if the reverse sneezing happens frequently.
A choking dog's cough is more serious and may sound like they are trying to expel something from their throat. If the coughing continues for longer than a few moments, the dog may be choking and it's time to check for an obstruction. Be cautious and do so safely from behind to avoid any accidental panic bites.
Pet parents should not put their hands in a choking dog’s mouth, as it carries a very high risk of panic bite and may also accidentally push the object further into the dog’s airway causing a worse obstruction.
If the dog is making a harsh gagging sound and seems to be retching—or trying to vomit repeatedly—there may be an object obstructing the throat. Pet parents should check the dog's throat for obstruction and follow the guidelines for helping a choking dog (below).
It is common for dogs to be brought into clinics or emergency vets because pet parents believe they are choking when, in fact, the pet is suffering from Kennel Cough, as the presenting symptoms may seem similar.
A dog will exhibit serious signs of distress if they are choking. They may come to their pet parent whining or having difficulty whining. Knowing that the issue lies in the mouth, parents may also see their dog pawing at the mouth, attempting to remove the object themselves.
Salivating and blue coloring in the gums and inner cheeks is a sign that the dog is choking and there is a complete obstruction. Without the ability to breathe, the dog will likely soon lose consciousness. It is imperative to act quickly in this situation.
Pet parents can sometimes remove the obstruction themselves. However, it is important not to perform any technique longer than a few minutes. If an object cannot be removed from the dog's throat quickly, the pet parent should take the dog to the nearest emergency vet clinic.
Pet parents should restrain their dog so that they are in a safe position for everyone involved. The dog should not be restrained with a muzzle, as pet parents will need access to the throat to remove the potential blockage. Once restrained, the dog's throat can be checked for any blockages. An object can be removed by a grasping tool, like tweezers, only if the pet parent feels confident that they won't lodge the object deeper into the throat. DO NOT attempt to remove items from a choking dog’s mouth by hand.
Pet parents may need to perform the Heimlich Maneuver if the obstruction cannot be removed. Smaller dogs can be held in the lap, so their back is against their parent’s legs or stood up with their back against their pet parent’s belly. In both positions, a soft spot on the dog's belly can be found right below the rib cage. Rapidly push in and up firmly with the palms or clasped fists. Do these chest compressions five times and then check the dog's mouth for a dislodged blockage.
It is important to note that an immediate video consultation with an online vet can help, as they can provide real-time instruction and support on how to do this specifically with the dog and scenario a pet parent is facing at the moment.
Larger dogs should be laid on the floor on their side. Pet parents should position themselves so that their knees are against the dog's back. Find the soft spot of the belly below the rib cage and thrust fists in and up towards the dog's mouth. After five thrusts, check the dog's mouth for obstruction.
If able to remove the obstruction from the dog's throat but the dog does not return to breathing, pet parents should perform CPR. The alternating chest compressions and rescue breathing pattern will help the dog resume breathing on their own. CPR may need to be continued on the way to the vet.
Become familiar with the veterinarians in the area and save the numbers of some emergency vet clinics. If facing difficulties removing the blockage, pet parents should take their dog to the nearest emergency vet as quickly as possible. Pet parents can call ahead so the vet can prepare to help upon arrival.
Fuzzy’s 24hr vet support team can also assist members in calling ahead to clinics or securing availability. In the case of larger airway blockages, every minute can make a difference for a pet’s ability to survive.
Pet parents may also want to head straight to the vet if they think attempting to remove the blockage will be dangerous for themselves or their pet. Lodging the obstruction further into the throat could be very dangerous for the dog. A dog may also become aggressive out of fear, so it is best to get help to avoid injury and seek emergency intervention.
Video call with an online vet for immediate guidance on removing a blockage or managing the pet’s recovery. Fuzzy will check back in over the next few days to ensure continued health checks whether or not the pet parents has been able to have the dog seen by a vet face-to-face.
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