Could You Save Your Dog from Choking?
By Gary Le Mon

Your dog likes to chew things. So does mine. Chewing is a natural instinct and you can't always prevent them from putting things in their mouth. But just as people can choke if an object gets lodged in their windpipe, so can dogs. Your dog may have tried to swallow a piece of food too quickly or may have got a toy stuck in her throat; suddenly she's panicking and struggling to breathe. What do you do? 

First rule is to stay calm. It's not going to help if you lose control. Remember that even the best-behaved dogs may be unpredictable if they are distressed. Your dog doesn't know you're trying to help and may try and bite. It will help if you stay calm, but you also need to be careful. 

Learn to recognize the signs of choking: distress, pawing at the mouth, struggling to breathe or even unconsciousness. If you suspect there is something stuck in your dog's windpipe, the first thing to do is have a look. Use both hands to open her mouth. If you pull her lips down over her teeth it can help to prevent you being bitten. Have a look to try and spot a foreign object in her throat. If it's hard to see, use your finger to feel. If you can see or feel something, try and hook it out with your finger or with something thin and smooth such as a flat spoon handle.

If you can't see anything or you can't reach it without pushing it further down, you need to try and dislodge it. If you can pick her up, hold her with her head down and give her five sharp slaps between the shoulder blades. If she's too heavy to pick up completely, use one arm under her belly to lift her back legs up and use the other hand to hit between her shoulder blades. Check her mouth again. If the object hasn't been dislodged, or if your dog is already unconscious, you need to try and force out whatever's stopping her breathing.

If your dog is small enough to pick up, hold her with her spine against your chest and join your hands together in a fist under her rib cage. This is the canine Heimlich maneuver. For bigger dogs, get her to stand and then put your arms around her, again making a fist just behind her ribs. If she's unconscious or too big to pick up, lay her on her right side. Either lay her with her back against a wall or a solid object and place both hands just behind her ribs. Optionally, put one hand behind her back to brace her and put your other hand on her belly. Once you've got your hands in the right place, press in and up five times in quick succession. This compresses the lungs and forces air up the windpipe. Then check your dog's mouth again and remove the object if possible.

If this doesn't work the first time, alternate trying to dislodge the object and trying to force it out. If your dog loses consciousness, alternate pushing up under the ribs with CPR if necessary.

Once the object is removed, get your dog to a vet as soon as possible. Even if you managed to quickly remove whatever was causing her to choke, there may still have been damage to her throat and windpipe that may cause further problems.

You can't always stop your dog from putting things in her mouth. But staying calm and understanding what to do can save her life if she begins to choke. Always check in the mouth first. If there's something choking her, try and dislodge it. Check again, and if it's still there try and force it out by compressing the lungs. Remember this simple sequence, and though I hope and pray you never have to use it, you'll be able to do the right thing if the worst happens. 


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