Learning how to help a choking dog could be what saves your best friends life. The Heimlich Maneuver works the same for dogs as it does for humans with a few adaptive biology adjustments. Dogs can start choking for a variety of reasons so always make sure you are keeping a watchful eye on toys, treats and all those little things that dogs love to get into.
Helping a Choking Dog
Prevention is always better than first aid. But if you need to help a choking dog, here’s how:
Step 1: Wheelbarrow Lift
Grab his hind legs and lift. The Wheelbarrow Lift refers to a move raising your dog’s hind legs up over his body with his front paws on the ground. This helps shift anything your dog might be choking on and allows gravity to work with you rather than against you.
Often this move is enough to dislodge something your dog is choking on. If he continues to choke and become increasingly distressed, proceed to the next step, Mouth Sweep.
Step 2: Mouth Sweep
Open your dog’s muzzle and look inside his mouth; you may be able to see what is stuck and lodged in his throat. With one hand holding the dog’s muzzle, use the index finger of your other hand to sweep from side to side along the back of his mouth to dislodge anything. Be careful not to stick your finger downward or try to grab the object as that can push it farther down.
CAUTION: Do this move with caution as you are dealing with a distressed animal who still has sharp teeth and can bite.
Step 3: Heimlich Maneuver or Abdominal Thrust
Perform the Heimlich Maneuver, also known as an Abdominal Thrust. Place your fist in the abdomen of your dog from above and behind him. With your other hand, cup your fist and push upward to you. This should create enough thrust of air that helps propel a dislodged object from your dog’s airways.
Be careful not to use too much thrust especially on smaller dogs. While this isn’t considered an aggressive or invasive emergency procedure, it can lead to internal injury if done at the wrong place or too forcefully.
For very large dogs, some veterinarians recommend pulling your dog up and hugging his abdomen while he is inverted with his head pointing down. This not only gives a solid Heimlich Maneuver thrust but also gets gravity working with you.
Step 4: Back Blows
Using the base of your palm, stand behind your choking dog and locate the space between his shoulder blades along his back. Give a firm Back Blow with the base of your palm that moves down and toward your dog’s head.
Step 5: Repeat as Needed
It might take several attempts to dislodge something in a choking dog’s throat. Alternate between the moves since any of them might create enough of a body change to help another move work more effectively.
If your dog becomes unconscious, do not start Dog CPR unless his pulse stops as well. Continue with these steps as long as there is a pulse along his inner hind leg at the femoral artery.
Look at this guide for Dog CPR steps.
Causes of Choking in Dogs
There are many reasons your dog may be choking. Talk to your veterinarian if you feel that your dog is having chronic choking issues. Here are the most common causes of choking.
Foreign Objects Causing Obstructions
Dogs find a world of trouble that can lead to choking. The most common items are things you give them that include bones, rawhides, dry kibble, biscuits and toys. Human treats such as carrots and broccoli can also lead to choking. Take away bones and rawhide when they become too small and watch toys where the stuffing is coming out or arms and legs are missing. Poor Mr. Pickles.
Then there is the world of things around your home and yard that your dog can find and choke on. Babyproofing almost needs to go on steroids since dogs tend to tear things up and then choke. Keep an eye on things like kids toys and or that toolbox when you are fixing the leak under the sink. Anything small or breakable is literally a choking risk.
Collapsing Trachea for Small Breed Dogs
This condition can happen to any dog but is more common in older small dog breeds. The trachea is the windpipe connecting the nose to the lung and mouth. It can become less rigid as a dog ages which means the more a dog tries to gasp for air, the floppy trachea collapses down on itself. There is no cure for this condition though keeping dogs at normal weights and getting veterinarian prescribed cough medicine can help.
When buying a puppy, ask if the parents or grandparents have issues with this condition. If they do, it increases the chances of your puppy developing this condition. Be sure to work with your veterinarian if you are concerned about a collapsing trachea.
Kennel Cough Infections
Kennel cough is an infectious disease often transmitted in dog kennels, doggy daycares and dog parks. The dog develops a harsh dry cough due to an upper respiratory infection. Kennel cough is akin to our human cold but can be averted with annual vaccinations including the Bordetella vaccine.
Kennel cough is treatable with antibiotics and cough medicine prescribed by your veterinarian. To help the condition, give your dog wet food or moisten his normal kibble so he doesn’t choke on that with his swollen throat and lymph nodes.
Don’t think that the collar your dog has today will fit him tomorrow. While most pet owners will buy puppies new collars as they grow, they assume that adult dogs don’t have changes in neck size. Ever have to adjust that belt buckle? You get the picture. Constricting collars can strain the trachea and lead to coughing and choking.
Final Thoughts on Helping a Choking Dog
As with all first aid and emergency procedures, keep yourself safe as you administer first aid. It does no one any good if you are bit while trying to help your dog.
Remember the simple steps of helping a choking dog:
- Wheelbarrow Lift
- Mouth Swipe
- Heimlich Maneuver
- Back Blows
- Repeat As Needed
The best action is always prevention. Monitor dogs when playing with toys or eating. Pay attention to thing around the house your dog might get into or has already gotten into. Know your dog’s normal behavior and always take a moment to examine your dog when something isn’t in his normal behavior patterns.
Be Safe Smart.
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