How To Give A Choking Dog The Heimlich Maneuver

Key takeaway

Dogs love to chew, which makes them prone to choking. From bones and rawhides to toys and food, dogs can choke on almost anything. The Heimlich maneuver could save your dog’s life if you can’t make it to the vet in time.

Learning how to give a dog the Heimlich maneuver could save their life. Dogs have a natural instinct and urge to chew. When they're puppies, they may chew on anything from their toys to furniture and your clothes. Additionally, dogs who love to play may destroy their dog toys, making them dangerous choking hazards if you don't take them away in time. Dogs can choke on anything. For example, can dogs eat apples? Yes, but they can be a choking hazard if you don't cut the pieces small enough. 

So whether it's bones, toys, fabric, or even their own food, dogs can choke on anything they put in their mouths. Would you know how to save their life in time? Unfortunately, most pet parents don't know how to give a dog the Heimlich maneuver, but when your dog is choking, there isn't time to pack them into the car and take them to the vet. Want to learn how to give a dog the Heimlich maneuver? You've come to the right place. This article will discuss what to do when your dog is choking, including signs they're choking, and how you can potentially save their life. 

Signs Your Dog Is Choking

Signs your dog is choking

When dogs are choking, they display many of the same signs as when humans choke, including: 

  • Coughing: If your dog is dry coughing, it could mean there's something in their throat. 
  • Retching: Dogs may try to make themselves vomit when there's something stuck in their throat. 
  • Drooling: A choking dog may drool because they can't swallow.
  • Whining: Dogs become fearful when there's something stuck in their throat, which could cause whining. If the obstruction is causing pain, your dog may become more vocal. 
  • Difficulty breathing: Dog wheezing may indicate trouble breathing because something is stuck in their windpipe. 
  • Panicking: Dogs naturally panic when they can't breathe, so your dog might pace around or beg for attention when they're choking. 
  • Rubbing their face on the ground: Dogs may try to rub their face on the ground to remove the obstruction. 
  • Excessive pawing at the mouth: In an attempt to remove the obstruction on their own, dogs may paw at their mouth or throat. 
  • Blue lips and tongue: If your dog's airway is completely blocked, they may not be able to make any sounds,1 so you may notice a change in their appearance. For example, their lips and tongue may turn blue.2

If your dog is choking, they'll show some signs of distress even if they're not making sounds. For example, they may rub their faces on the floor if there's something caught in their windpipe.3 If your dog is unresponsive or unconscious, it could mean they're having difficulty breathing.4

Immediate Care For A Choking Dog

As soon as you notice your dog is choking, you can open their mouth with both hands to see if there's anything lodged in their mouth or between the teeth.4 Your dog may be in a state of panic, so be careful to avoid getting bitten. If you see any obstructions, you can remove them with your fingers. However, if there's something lodged in the throat, don't try to remove them with your hands as it could push the objects farther back.3

If you don't see anything, the obstruction may be much farther back, so don't try to poke around in your dog's mouth or throat blindly because it could make matters worse. Instead, take your dog to the nearest emergency vet. Spending too much time looking for the obstruction means there's less time for a professional to save their life. 

If you already know how to give your dog the Heimlich maneuver, you can try it, but your dog may not be receptive. The Heimlich maneuver can be life-saving for your dog, so if you can't remove an obstruction or simply don't see one while your dog is choking, it's a good tool to have in your back pocket for emergencies. Since going to the vet may take valuable time your dog doesn't have, every pet owner should know the Heimlich maneuver.3 The Heimlich maneuver should only be performed if you don't have time to make it to the vet because your pet is gasping for air. 

Of course, other causes for dog choking don't require the Heimlich maneuver. For example, if your dog's collar is stuck on something and they're choking themselves trying to break free, you can release them.3

What Is The Heimlich Maneuver?

The Heimlich maneuver is a first aid method for choking that involves thrusting into the abdomen

The Heimlich maneuver is a first aid method for choking in people, dogs, and other animals.5 It involves thrusting into the abdominal area and can save your dog's life

How To Perform The Heimlich Maneuver On Your Dog

The Heimlich maneuver on dogs is slightly different from what it is for humans because dogs are much smaller. Therefore, the Heimlich maneuver should only be used if you don't have time to make it to an emergency vet and your dog is struggling to breathe. If possible, you can have a vet on the phone to help walk you through the process. Here's how to give the Heimlich to a dog, depending on their size. 

The Heimlich Maneuver For Small Dogs

There are two methods for how to give a small dog the Heimlich maneuver: 

  • Method 1: Holding your dog with their back to your front like you would when giving a human the Heimlich maneuver, find the soft spot on your dog's abdomen, just under the ribs. Then, using your fist, thrust in and up on their abdomen.3
  • Method 2: Lay your dog on their back and apply pressure to the abdomen under the ribs using the heel of your hand. Again, press inwards and up on their body.3

Repeat the steps if necessary. If your dog coughs up the obstruction, you can remove it from their mouth. 

The Heimlich Maneuver For Large Dogs

The two methods for giving large dogs the Heimlich is similar to giving it to small dogs. However, you should never pick a large dog up. 

Method 1: Stand your dog on their hind legs with their back against your front. Then, find the soft spot on the abdomen under the ribs and thrust inwards and upwards.3

Method 2: Lay your dog on their side and press inwards and upwards on their abdomen. You can also hold them from behind.3

You can repeat the steps and remove the obstruction once it comes out. However, never try to pick a large dog up, as this could injure both of you and cause more harm to the dog. 

After The Heimlich Maneuver

If you remove the obstruction from your dog in time, they should be able to breathe normally again. However, if they're not breathing or responsive, administer CPR as soon as possible.3 You should take your dog to the vet no matter what, even if they're acting completely normal again, because objects stuck in the throat could have caused injuries. 

Additionally, dogs that have not gotten a proper amount of oxygen to their brain may require hospitalization.4 Your dog could also have bitten their tongue, or they still might have a small piece of the obstruction stuck in their throat. 

How To Prevent Choking

While knowing how to perform the Heimlich on dogs is a great first aid method to have available in emergencies, it's not something you should rely on. Instead, you should try to prevent your dog from choking in the first place. Here are a few tips to help: 

  • Puppy-proof your home: Before bringing home a new dog, you should puppy-proof your home by keeping garbage off the floor and hiding choking hazards. Dogs, especially puppies, will eat just about anything, so try to keep your home as clean and tidy as possible to help keep them safe. 
  • Supervise playtime: Your dog should never be left alone during playtime because a destructive chewer can destroy even the most durable toys. No dog toy is indestructible, so your dog could break them into smaller pieces and accidentally eat them. Additionally, you should choose toys that are the proper size for them. Giving a big dog a small toy can result in choking. 
  • Choose the right food for their size and cut up big chunks of food for them: Dog food comes in many different sizes, and even your dog's food can be a choking hazard. Small dogs should eat small kibble to prevent choking, while large dogs can eat larger kibble. Additionally, if you share pet-safe food with them, chop it up into smaller pieces in case your dog tries to swallow it whole.

How To Give A Dog The Heimlich Maneuver: FAQs

Can the Heimlich hurt dogs?

If done improperly, the Heimlich could hurt dogs. For example, if you press on their ribs, you could cause bruising or broken bones. The Heimlich can also cause internal injuries because of the level of force needed to expel the obstruction. Therefore, this life-saving method should only be used when you don't have time to make it to the vet and are worried about your dog's life. 

Does water help a choking dog?

Yes, water can help a choking dog, but it depends on what's stuck in their mouths. For example, small pieces of food or kibble may be dissolved faster when your dog drinks water. Additionally, water may give the obstruction the extra gentle push it needs to go down your dog's throat. Unfortunately, water doesn't always work. 

Why does my dog keep choking on nothing?

If your dog is displaying signs of choking, but there's nothing stuck in their throat, they may not be choking. Instead, you might hear coughing or wheezing from allergies, reverse sneezing, or an underlying medical illness. 

Veterinarian holding and examining a dog’s head

Final Note

When your dog is choking, the best thing you can do is call the vet and tell them what's going on. If you know what your dog is choking on, your vet may be able to provide you with instructions to save their life. With a vet on the phone, you can perform the Heimlich maneuver only if you can't make it to an emergency clinic in time. Since choking can be fatal for dogs, it's best to prevent it as best you can. 

Dutch's licensed veterinarians can help you find the right food and toys for your dog to prevent choking hazards. We can even teach you how to perform the Heimlich maneuver with a more hands-on and visual approach. Schedule your first veterinarian telemedicine appointment today. 

References

  1. “Choking Dog: What to Do!” First Aid for Pets, https://firstaidforpets.net/choking-dog-help/.

  2. “Pet First Aid – Basic Procedures.” American Veterinary Medical Association, https://www.avma.org/resources/pet-owners/emergencycare/pet-first-aid-basic-procedures#choking.

  3. Karetnick, Jen. “Dog Choking: What to Do & Heimlich Maneuver for Dogs.” American Kennel Club, 29 Mar. 2022, https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/dog-choking-dog-heimlich-instructions/.

  4. “How to Perform the Heimlich Maneuver for Dogs If Your Dog Is Choking.” PetMD, https://www.petmd.com/dog/emergency/common-emergencies/e_dg_choking.

  5. “Heimlich Maneuver Choking Treatment.” Cleveland Clinic, https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/treatments/21675-heimlich-maneuver.