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How To Save Your Cat or Dog’s Life if They Are Choking

As much as you’d like to watch your pet’s every move, you can’t — and your cat or dog will inevitably get into something they shouldn’t. Sometimes they’ll simply chew up one of your socks or tip over the trash can; and while a mess is annoying in the moment, it’s ultimately not a big deal. However, at some point, your dog or cat might get into something and begin to choke. Because choking can happen at any time — even while eating their own food — it’s important that you know how to save your pet.

You might not have time to rush your pet to the vet before the situation becomes more serious. So, keep reading to learn how to stop your cat or dog from choking yourself. It’s information you hope you’ll never need — but it could also end up saving your furry friend’s life. 

How common is a pet choking?

One of the things you love about your pet is also one of the things that puts them in danger: They live in the moment. If Fido is hungry, she’s going to scarf her food down in a rush. If Felix sees something shiny he wants to chew on, he will pick it up. Pets don’t assess situations the same way we do, which is why you need to be on the lookout. But no matter how careful you are, your pet can choke. Both cats and dogs choke frequently. In fact, Oprah Winfrey lost her Golden Retriever, Gracie, to a choking incident in 2007. Accidents happen — so it’s important to know how to react in the moment. 

How can I tell if my dog or cat is choking?

Knowing the signs of choking is the first step in potentially saving your pet’s life. Dogs and cats may cough, sneeze, or make other non-serious noises that sound like choking. But here’s how to know when immediate intervention is needed. 

  • Dog: If your dog is pacing back and forth while retching or pawing at her mouth, she may be choking. Keep in mind that she may not be able to make any sound if her airway is totally blocked. 
  • Cat: If your cat’s mouth is open and salivating, he’s having increased breathing movement in his stomach, and he is making high-pitched or snoring sounds while breathing, he may be choking. His gums and tongue may also begin to turn blue. 

How To Save A Choking Dog or Cat

Whether you have a dog or a cat, it’s important you call your vet immediately in the event of choking (after trying to help them, of course). Even if you remove the obstruction, they will want to assess your pet’s health and make sure choking didn’t cause any more serious issues. Pet food brand Hill’s shares the immediate actions you should take if your dog or your cat is choking below. 

If your dog is choking: 

  1. Open her mouth and check for the obstruction. Sweep your finger side to side to see if you can dislodge the object. Keep in mind that your dog is likely anxious: If you cannot do this safely without being bitten, contact your vet immediately. 
  2. If the obstruction is not visible or you can’t dislodge it with your finger, perform the Heimlich maneuver for dogs. If you have a large dog, put your arms around her, joining your hands at her abdomen. Make a fist and push up and forward. If you have a small dog, turn her over and put pressure on her upper stomach, directly below her ribcage. 
  3. Petguide also recommends putting your dog in the wheelbarrow position by holding her back paws and forcing her head downward, then administering a “sharp blow” between her shoulder blades. See their website for a diagram
  4. If you’re having trouble, take your dog to the vet or an animal hospital immediately. 

If your cat is choking: 

  1. Open his mouth and sweep inside it with your index finger to dislodge the obstruction, looking inside to ensure you’re not pushing the obstructing item deeper. You can also gently pull his tongue forward so you can see deeper into his throat. 
  2. If the obstruction is not visible, perform the Heimlich maneuver for cats. Hold him with his back against your chest, feet hanging. Firmly but gently push on his stomach about five times in quick, upward thrusts. If this doesn’t work, hold him up by his hips so his head is facing downward and perform another mouth sweep. 
  3. If you’re having trouble, take your cat to the vet or an animal hospital immediately. 

Choking Hazards for Cats and Dogs

Pets are curious and unpredictable, so there’s no foolproof way to keep them from choking. There are some things, however, that pose a higher choking risk for your cat or dog. Privet Pet Care and Proud Dog Mom share some of the items that may be dangerous here. 

  • Bones (cooked or rawhide)
  • Balls
  • Stones
  • Sticks
  • Toys with plastic eyes, ribbons, or feathers
  • Plastic wrap and aluminum foil
  • Childrens’ toys
  • Yarn
  • Strong
  • Rubber bands

You don’t need to live in constant fear of your pet choking and keep them away from all toys and treats. But, your furry friend is part of your family — so it’s important to be aware of the dangers, in order to better keep your pup or kitty safe.

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