Having personally dislodged an overly generous piece of sausage from my dog’s throat, I think it’s safe to say I know a little about the panic and procedure associated with choking. Most dogs will chew nearly anything: bones, toys, shoes, socks, the list is endless. But would you know what to do if something became lodged in the windpipe or stuck on the palate and your dog began to choke? I didn’t, and given its high up on my list of phobias, it was a pretty traumatic experience for both of us. Nonetheless, it’s important that you don’t hang around for veterinary assistance, (unless you’re incredibly fortunate to live right next door to a surgery) but even so, time is crucial and you must act fast.
SIGNS TO WATCH OUT FOR
If the dog is suffocating, they will often begin to panic, and paw at their mouths in an attempt to dislodge the object, although this does not always mean they are choking. Often food get slightly stuck in the palette and your dog will cough up the suspected culprit and crisis will be averted. Choking refers to an item being lodged in the windpipe so an obvious sign that is an unresponsive or unconscious dog; in which case your dog’s breathing will stop and they will become stiff in appearance in keel over.
Be very careful when dealing with a choking dog, as even the calmest of dogs can become aggressive out of fear when they cannot breathe. Protect yourself by gently restraining your dog, but remember that in serious cases when your dog is unconscious the best thing to do is act quickly.
- Use both hands to open the mouth, with one hand on the upper jaw and the other on the lower.
- Grasping the jaws, press the lips over the dog’s teeth so that they are between the teeth and your fingers.
- Look inside the mouth and remove the obstruction with your fingers.
- If you can’t move the object with your fingers, use a flat spoon handle to pry it away from the teeth or roof of the mouth.
If the dog is still choking and you can’t see anything in the mouth, or the dog has fallen unconscious, follow these guidelines.
Pick the dog up by its thighs and gently shake and swing it. If his condition does not improve, apply forward pressure to the abdomen just behind the ribcage.
Do not try to pick up, shake, or swing a large dog; you’re more likely to do further damage due to the animal’s size. Instead, perform the canine version of the Heimlich manoeuvre:
- Place your arms around their belly, clasping your hands. Make a fist and push firmly up and forward, just behind the rib cage. Place the dog in the recovery position on his side afterward.
- If the dog is lying down and you can’t get them into a standing position, place one hand on their back for support and use the other hand to squeeze the abdomen upwards and forwards.
- Check the dog’s mouth and remove any objects that may have become dislodged with your fingers.
Note that the object might be quite a way back towards the throat, so you might have to hunt around and hook it out with your index finger. If it’s food that has gotten lodged, it may even be possible to push the item further down the windpipe down into the stomach where it should have gone initially, thus freeing up the airway.
It is likely objects stuck in the throat have caused damage. Depending on the length of time the dog was without oxygen and the damage to the throat, the dog may require hospitalization for a few days. In some cases, bronchoscopy (a small camera is inserted into the windpipe to detect and remove the foreign body) may be recommended.
The best way to prevent choking is to treat your dog as you would a small child. Although it’s almost impossible to stop them putting things in their mouth, you should always be present and keep an eye on what they’re chewing. Puppies and dogs that are prone to chewing should be given appropriate teething toys to avoid chewing on harmful objects. Avoid moisture-swollen chew toys or sticks, and cut up large chunks of food, especially gristle as dogs tend to inhale their food and can’t be relied upon to chew responsibly, so always ensure you do this for them.
Remember in the event of choking, staying calm and doing everything you can for your dog is the best thing you can do. Realistically, you will panic, but try your best to turn that fear adrenaline into action. If you’re really concerned about choking happening or any other first aid emergencies, look into pet first aid courses in your area so that you feel prepared and confident in the event of an emergency.