How to Help A Choking Dog: Life-Saving Tips For Pet Parents

How to Help A Choking Dog: Life-Saving Tips For Pet Parents

Alpha Paw Sale

Jan 22, 2024

How Can You Tell If Your Dog Is Choking?

Choking calls for immediate assistance, whether veterinary care or the pet parent performing the Heimlich maneuver on their canine companion. Dogs can lose their life in a matter of minutes if you do not manage to dislodge something that’s stuck in their throat. But what symptoms does a dog choking show? We’ve listed some below:

When the oxygen flow is restricted, the pet’s tongue or gums could change color (becoming slightly blue). Choking dogs that get no help eventually become unconscious. Sometimes, a choking dog will stand very still, with its limbs wide apart so as to maintain its balance. It’s important to be aware of what your dog is eating and putting in its mouth throughout the day.

How to help a choking dog: life-saving tips for pet parents

Common Causes of Choking in Dogs

Choking is a life-threatening emergency. Unfortunately, most pet parents think that it can only happen when their dog tries to eat something that may be too big for it to swallow.  It can actually happen because for many reasons. It’s important to understand the ways dogs risk choking and how to prevent that from happening.

An Allergic Reaction

One of the most severe instances of dogs choking, even if they have not had anything to eat is an allergic reaction. Just like humans, dogs are allergic to a variety of things. From pollen to specific foods, it’s important to know the common household foods that are toxic to your pets, the foods they are allergic to, and keep those items away from your pooch.

If your pup is allergic to certain foods, consider giving her allergy chews and dog food for canine friends who are prone to allergies.

Collar Issues

Your dog can also choke due to its collar being too tight. One of the biggest issues with leashes and collars is that they can get tangled in brambles, bushes, or fences.

If your canine friend is an escape artist and they run away while they have their leash and collar on, they could get stuck or end up choking without you being able to help your dog or go to the vet immediately.

Having a collar on is not comfortable for any dog. Thankfully, nowadays there are many options for harnesses that keep your dog comfortable, secure, safe, and stylish! Using a harness can greatly reduce the risks of collar issues that could lead to choking.

How to help a choking dog: life-saving tips for pet parents

Food Goes Down the Wrong Hole

Another way a dog can choke is when the food goes down the wrong hole. For humans, it’s more common to drink something and it goes the wrong way. When that happens, it puts pressure on the trachea. Choking is your body reacting to the invaders and trying to push the foreign items out of its space.

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What To Do When Your Dog Is Choking

If your dog is experiencing an allergic reaction, your vet should be able to prescribe an emergency medication that you could give your pooch. Anaphylactic shock is very dangerous, so take your dog to the vet right away.

If your dog is choking because of something that they ate, they’re probably panicking. Before you move on to performing any maneuvers, get help and make sure that your pet is restrained properly. Do not try to reach into your dog’s mouth to remove the foreign body if you are alone, no matter how tempting it might be.

For any animal, including a dog, choking can be terrifying, which means that they’ll be panicked and they are not going to understand that you are merely trying to help them. Check the dog’s mouth by opening it and peering inside but without putting yourself at risk of being bitten.

If the dog is unconscious and you have the assistance of another person, you can reach out inside their throat and remove the obstacle using a pair of large tweezers – but only if you are absolutely sure that you do not risk getting bitten.

The Heimlich Maneuver for Dogs

You perform the Heimlich Maneuver when you can’t reach into your dog’s mouth and remove whatever’s blocking their airway,  This procedure can be performed from behind. Hold your dog around the waist so that the dog’s rear is the closest to your body.

You will need enough space to be able to push up on your pet’s rib cage. Make a fist and push firmly just behind the sternum while using a thrusting motion to put pressure on your dog’s abdomen. Check the dog’s mouth to see whether the piece of food or obstacle has not been dislodged.

Heimlich Maneuver for small dogs

Small and toy breeds can be handled differently simply because you will be able to get them in your lap. If your canine friend is calm enough to be handled, make a fist and push their abdomen upwards and forwards while putting pressure right under the ribs so as to mechanically remove the object from their mouth.

On a small choking dog, the Heimlich maneuver is performed while it’s turned on its back. Since the dog might swallow the object immediately after it is dislodged from the throat,  turn it to its side after performing the maneuver five times.

Heimlich Maneuver for medium to large dogs

Medium and large breeds also have to be handled differently since it’s usually impossible for their owners to keep them in their lap. If the dog is standing, put your arms around your canine companion’s body so as to have your hands joined right under their ribs.

Make a fist with your hands and then push up and forward five to six times. The Heimlich maneuver for dogs that are sizable is much easier to perform and it manages to get them to dislodge the food piece in a timely fashion.

If your pet has lost consciousness and they are lying on the ground, you need to place one hand on their back and use the other hand to push on their abdomen using a thrusting motion, right under their ribs. Look inside your dog’s mouth to make sure that the toys or piece of food isn’t still there.

Sometimes, the obstruction can’t be solved completely, especially if the object is sharp and can get stuck in your dog’s mouth after being dislodged from their throat. In that case, as soon as your dog manages to breathe and calms down, you need to get to the vet as soon as possible so that they can manually remove the item.

How to help a choking dog: life-saving tips for pet parents

Preventing Your Dog From Choking In The Future

Get regular checkups at the vet. It may seem like it’s pointless to see a vet when there appears to be nothing wrong with your doggo. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Regular checkups will help you understand if your dogs have underlying issues or if they are on track. The vet can let you know if your dog has certain health problems that can create breathing issues — such as allergies, which can be detected using blood tests.

Get indestructible toys and accessories. They will cost more but it’s worth it when it comes to your dog’s health. Higher quality, indestructible dog toys are not going to create any choking and breathing problems. When the toy breaks, remove it from your pooch’s collection to prevent the smaller pieces from ending up lodged in your pet’s throat.

No to mini tennis balls as they are much easier to swallow. If they are ingested, they can put indirect pressure on your dog’s throat even if they haven’t gone down the wrong way. Use large, sturdy tennis balls instead.

Feed your dog regularly. The likelihood of something getting lodged into a dog’s airway is much higher if they haven’t had food for a while and they are ravenous.  chews or doggy cookies that have otherwise created no issues in the past can become a choking hazard if the dog is very, very hungry.

It is very important to keep a healthy eating schedule for your dog so their digestive health is not disrupted. Just like humans, when we eat the wrong things, at the wrong times, we rarely benefit from it. Instead, we get sick from the inconsistent changes.

How to help a choking dog: life-saving tips for pet parents

Final Thoughts

When you see your dog choking, it can be stressful and scary. However, as we’ve learned, there are several reasons why it could be happening. Be able to distinguish the possible causes and get give them the proper help.

Most importantly, stay calm and keep focus. Your four-legged family member is looking to you for support and comfort, so it’s critical you maintain your cool and lead the way.

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Alpha Paw Sale
author image

Dr. Christina Vulpe, DVM

Member of Alpha Paw’s Board of Pet Experts

Dr. Cristina Vulpe is a board-certified small animal veterinarian. She earned her veterinary degree in 2011 from USAMV in Iasi, Romania, and her PhD in Canine Oncology in 2015 from USAMV in Cluj-Napoca, Romania. She is passionate about anything from animal nutrition & welfare to veterinary parasitology & infectious diseases. As a responsible pet parent herself, she enjoys giving reliable medical advice that pet owners can trust, which is why she joined Alpha Paw’s Board of Pet Experts on our mission to help our readers give their pets the happy & healthy lives they deserve.


The medical, nutritional, or behavioral advice we provide is intended for informational and educational purposes only. Our editorial content is not a substitute for formal or personalized medical advice from a veterinary professional. Only board-certified veterinary specialists who have examined your pet should diagnose medical conditions, provide personalized treatment, or prescribe appropriate medication. For questions regarding your pet’s health, or if your pet is exhibiting signs of illness, injury, or distress, contact your veterinarian immediately. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on our site.