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 throat. Dogs with foreign objects lodged in their throat are at risk for choking or becoming injured by sharp objects that may puncture the delicate tissue in their larynx, trachea, or esophagus. If your dog or puppy has a foreign object trapped in their throat, you may notice that they are coughing and gagging.
Signs of my dog choking
A choking dog will sometimes cough but not always. Other signs of choking include retching, gagging, vomiting, frequent gulping, trouble swallowing, pawing at the mouth or face, and excessive drooling. If your dog exhibits any of these behaviors, immediately check to see if there is a foreign body stuck in their throat.
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Dislodging an object from a dog's throat
When a dog has a foreign object stuck in their throat, it's best to remove it as soon as possible even if it isn't blocking their trachea, or airway. To do so, use both of 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 their mouth and look down their throat. It helps to have a light source handy, such as a flashlight or the flashlight on your cell phone. Gently gripping your dog's tongue and pulling it outward 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 head to the veterinarian. 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 might be in the back of your dog's throat, so use your fingers to hunt around and remove it. Don't forget to check the top of your dog's mouth (the hard palate), as it is possible that an object such as a bone or stick could be lodged across this area.
Let gravity help your dog
If you can't manually dislodge the item, try using gravity. If you have a small-breed dog, hold them upside down with their head facing the ground to help dislodge the foreign object. If you have a large dog, grab their hind legs and lift, forcing their head downward (like a wheelbarrow). This can sometimes help your dog cough up the obstruction.
Keeping their head down, administer a sharp tap to the dog's back between their 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, proceed directly to the Heimlich maneuver.
Pet owners can learn the Heimlich maneuver for dogs
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 foreign body. First, kneel or stand behind your dog and wrap your arms around them with their 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 toward the dog's rib cage four to five times. This should dislodge the object.
You can also deliver a few sharp taps (again with a firm, open palm) to the dog's back between the shoulder blades. Repeat these steps as necessary, alternating between the Heimlich maneuver and shoulder taps until the object comes out.
Take your dog to a veterinarian
You'll need your veterinarian's help in the event of a throat blockage. If you are unable to remove the object yourself, go to the emergency veterinary clinic immediately, as a foreign body airway blockage can be life-threatening. Even if you successfully dislodge the object, it is important to take your dog to the veterinarian for an examination afterward. Some foreign bodies do more damage coming out than they do going in, and any object can cause an issue. Your veterinarian can check for damage to your dog's throat or respiratory tract. They may perform X-rays and administer treatment if needed.
Dog choking prevention tips
Dog owners can help prevent choking by keeping an eye on what their pets are eating. Make sure to avoid large chunks of food and bones in your dog's food and throw away any moisture-swollen sticks and chew toys. Avoid rawhide treats, as these are common causes of choking in dogs. In addition, keep household clutter to a minimum. A dog can't swallow what he can't find or reach.
The bottom line
It can be scary to see your dog coughing and gagging, especially if you suspect they might be choking or have a blockage in their respiratory tract. However, it is important to remain calm and try to remove the foreign object using the proper technique or the Heimlich maneuver. You should also take your dog to a veterinarian right away, whether or not you are successful in removing the object.