Dogs are curious animals and often gulp down anything and everything while they explore their world. At times, these items may become trapped in their throats. Dogs with foreign objects lodged in their throats are at risk for choking or becoming injured by sharp objects that may puncture the delicate tissue in their throats. If your dog or puppy has a foreign object trapped in her throat, you may notice that she is coughing and gagging.
Dog choking symptoms
A choking dog will sometimes cough but not always. Other symptoms of choking include retching, gagging, vomiting, frequent gulping, trouble swallowing, and excessive drooling. If your dog exhibits any of these behaviors immediately check to see if there is something stuck in the dog's throat. Don't wait for a coughing fit that may never come.
Manually dislodging objects
When a dog has something stuck in his throat, it's best to remove it as soon as possible, even if it isn't blocking his airway. To do so, use both your hands to open your dog's mouth, with one hand holding the upper jaw and one hand holding the lower. If you have a friend or someone to help, they can hold the dog to their chest while you open his mouth and look down his throat. Gently gripping your dog's tongue and pulling it outwards will make it easier to see and may dislodge the stuck object.
If you see the blockage, grab it with your fingers and try to very gently pull it out. If you meet with any resistance whatsoever, stop immediately and go to the vet. If you can't see anything but are certain there is something there, sweep your fingers through your dog's mouth to try to feel and remove the object. It may be in the back of your dog's throat, so use your fingers to hunt around and remove it.
Some help from gravity
If you can't manually dislodge the item, try using gravity. If you have a small dog, hold him upside down with his head facing the ground to help dislodge the foreign object. If you have a large dog, grab his hind legs and lift, forcing his head downward (like a wheelbarrow). This can sometimes help your dog cough up the obstruction.
Keeping her head down, administer a sharp tap to the dog's back between her shoulder blades once with a firm, open palm. This can sometimes jolt the item free from your dog's throat.
If your dog is too large or heavy to lift, skip this step so you don't injure yourself or the dog and make matters worse. Instead, skip this step and proceed directly to the Heimlich maneuver.
Use the Heimlich
If your dog is struggling to breathe and is choking on an object, you can use the Heimlich maneuver to help clear their air passageway and dislodge the object. First, kneel or stand behind your dog and wrap your arms around him with his head facing away from you.
Make a fist and find the soft, hollow area beneath your dog's rib cage. Cover your fist with the palm of your other hand and place it in that soft space. Thrust your fist inward and upward towards the dog's rib cage four to five times. This should dislodge the object.
You can also deliver a few sharp blows to the dog's back between the shoulder blades. Repeat these steps as necessary, alternating between the Heimlich maneuver and shoulder blows until the object comes out.
Get to the vet
Clearly, you'll need your vet's help if you can't remove the stuck object yourself. It's important to take your dog to the vet after any type of throat blockage, however, even if you've successfully used a home remedy for a bone stuck in the dog's throat. Some objects do more damage coming out than they do going in, and any object can cause an issue. Your vet can confirm that there are no cuts or other damage in your dog's throat and administer treatment if there is.
Choking prevention tips
You can help prevent dog choking by keeping an eye on what your four-legged friend is eating. Make sure to avoid large chunks of food and bones in your dog's food, and to throw away any moisture-swollen sticks and chew toys. Try and keep household clutter to a minimum as well. A dog can't swallow what he can't find or reach.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.