Assist! My Canine is Choking – Dogster

It’s 3 a.m. and you are sound asleep. Suddenly your dog coughs. Or is he choking? Waiting! Is he choking ?! You jump out of bed to check on him, and he’s already asleep again. Dogs make all kinds of funny noises and most of them signal no problem. So when should you be concerned?

Choking is always an emergency, but luckily it is rare. As an emergency vet, I’ve only seen a dog suffocate twice for 10 years – once on a racquetball and once on a large bundle of food.

Coughing or choking is much more likely to be the culprit. Choking occurs when objects like balls, groceries, treats, or bones clog the airways. A choking dog can make very little or no noise. His gums will be pale or blue in color.

What to do

If you suspect your dog is choking:

✔ The first step is to open your mouth and look for a foreign object that you can reach.

✔ If it does, quickly sweep your fingers to try to remove it. (This is obviously a risk as stress and anxiety may cause your dog to bite you, so proceed with caution.)

If you cannot reach the object, you can try a Heimlich maneuver “dog”:

✔ Stand your dog on its back legs.

✔ Connect your hands directly under his chest.

✔ Try three strong hits.

If this doesn’t work, don’t hesitate to seek medical help. Go to the nearest veterinary office as soon as possible. The vets and technicians will quickly intervene in the oxygen therapy and try to remove the object. If it can’t be removed quickly, an emergency tracheotomy can be done.

Coughing and choking

Here, too, suffocation is rare. If your dog is making strange noises, it is much more likely that it is coughing or choking.

If your dog is coughing, it doesn’t necessarily mean a visit to the veterinarian is appropriate. As in humans, coughs and sneezes are protective mechanisms for the airways and prevent foreign bodies such as bacteria and dust from getting into the lungs. An occasional dry, unproductive cough that resolves is nothing to worry about. A cough that persists, sounds wet, makes breathing difficult, or is productive should be evaluated by your veterinarian. Everything from allergies to kennel cough to heartworm disease can cause this.

Sometimes a dog coughs so hard that it ends up choking like trying to throw a hairball. Choking isn’t necessarily a serious sign unless it continues. It’s pretty normal for a dog to gag at the end of a hard cough.

If your dog needs veterinary care for a cough, diagnosis and treatment will vary depending on the underlying cause. If there aren’t any other signs like a fever and your pet has been exposed to other dogs, bordetella (kennel cough) is the likely culprit. This diagnosis usually doesn’t require specific tests, just a good medical history and physical exam. Treatment is symptomatic and usually lasts one to two weeks.

If there are other red flags like a fever, nasal discharge, or if your veterinarian hears abnormalities when expelling your dog’s chest, more specific tests like blood tests, canine flu tests, and chest x-rays are likely recommended. If oxygen levels are compromised, your dog may need to be hospitalized for treatment with oxygen, antibiotics, and nebulization to open the airways. This happens with pneumonia or severe cardiopulmonary disease.

Choking without a cough can be an indication of many things, including foreign objects in the esophagus. This is much more common than actual asphyxiation. Common offenders are rawhide chewing and bone fragments. If your dog has an object stuck in their esophagus, immediate care is required. Other causes of choking can include irritation of the gullet (esophagitis) from a respiratory disease or upper airway problems such as larynx paralysis.

If your dog has any unusual symptoms, try making a video. This can be really helpful in making a diagnosis. If you are concerned, contacting your veterinarian is never a bad idea!

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