How to Perform the Heimlich Maneuver If Your Dog is Choking

Dr. Rania Gollakner
Published: December 2, 2022
How to Perform the Heimlich Maneuver If Your Dog is Choking

Is My Dog Choking?

If your dog is choking, he or she may be gasping, struggling to breathe or not breathing, making loud breathing sounds, pawing at his or her face, or acting frantic or panicked.

What To Do If Your Dog Is Choking

If you suspect your dog is choking, approach your dog carefully, as he/she may be anxious and may behave abnormally.

Check to see if the object can be removed with your hands by carefully restraining your dog and opening the mouth and pulling the tongue forward. If you can, remove the object with your fingers by sweeping the object out of the throat. Be careful not to push it further into the airway.

If the object is just out of reach, the flat side of a spoon may be used to push it closer within reach, again being careful not to push it further into the throat. This may be difficult to perform if your dog is conscious. Pay special attention to prevent getting bitten during the process.

Pet parents can perform an extraction technique on their dog if they are unconscious, with a complete airway obstruction caused by a smooth object such as a ball. A veterinarian may instruct you on technique if there is a concern of waiting until arrival at the veterinary hospital. If your dog is choking, contact an emergency veterinarian immediately to determine next steps.

Heimlich Maneuver for Dogs

If the object is not able to be physically removed with your fingers, perform the Heimlich maneuver:

  1. Stand behind your dog or lift your dog so that their spine is against your chest.

  2. Wrap your arms around the animal under the ribs.

  3. Make a fist with one hand and cup your other hand around your fist.

  4. Perform five rapid thrusts into the belly, just under the ribs, by thrusting your fist into the belly and up toward the ribs.

  5. If this does not dislodge the object, give five sharp blows to your dog’s back between the shoulder blades.

  6. Repeat this process until the object is dislodged. Remember to periodically check to see if the object has dislodged enough to be removed with your fingers.

Heimlich Maneuver for Large Dogs

For large dogs that are standing, perform the Heimlich maneuver as described above. You can also try lifting their hind legs in the air like a wheelbarrow to encourage the object to slide forward.

For large dogs that are lying down on their side or that cannot be lifted up against your chest, place a hand on the dog’s back while using the other hand to squeeze the abdomen in and upward. Check the mouth to see if the object is dislodged enough to grab with your fingers.

Heimlich Maneuver for Small Dogs

For smaller dogs, in addition to the Heimlich maneuver described above, you can suspend your dog by the hips/thighs and carefully swing your dog from side to side. Check the mouth to see if the object is dislodged enough to grab with your fingers.

What To Do After You Stopped Dog from Choking

Once the object has been removed, if your dog is not breathing, give a few breaths like you would do during CPR on a person. If there is no response, begin CPR.

If your dog is breathing, follow up with your veterinarian immediately for further examination. It is important to make sure that the object did not cause an injury in the throat that could lead to other serious outcomes, and to ensure that the lungs and airway are free of any other foreign material. X-rays may be performed to check the lungs for fluid accumulation or to check the abdomen for ingested foreign objects.

How to Prevent Future Choking in Dogs

Not all accidents can be prevented, but consider these causes of choking in dogs and ways you can prevent them from occurring:

  • Pay attention to the size of kibble. Some dry foods designed for large dogs or for treating dental tartar are too large for a small dog.

  • Baby or child toys should not be accessible to dogs, especially when they are unattended.

  • Dog toys can be choking hazards if they are too small for the size of dog or have pieces that can break off. Choose toys that are size-appropriate, sturdy, and do not easily break into pieces..

  • Dog treats like rawhide can become a choking hazard once your dog has chewed it to a smaller size. They may need to be taken from your dog when they become too small. Never give edible chew treats unsupervised.

Paying attention to what your dog eats and the types of treats they have is important to avoid a choking situation. However, accidents happen so it's critical to know how to perform the Heimlich maneuver as it can be life-saving in an emergency event.

Featured Image: iStock.com/Nevena1987


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