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First Aid for Canine Choking - Canine Heimlich Maneuver


Knowing what to do - when your pet can't breathe

Seeing a dog that might be choking is a frightening occurrence for anyone. This type of pet emergency doesn't happen often, but it's worth knowing the basics of first aid for canine choking in case you are ever faced with this situation. First, you must determine if the animal really is choking on a foreign object. If so, you can try to carefully fish the object out of the dog's throat. If unsuccessful, you can attempt a modified version of the Heimlich maneuver usually used on humans. Whatever rescue methods are used, contact an emergency veterinarian right away. This step-by-step guide includes more details to help prepare you and provides references for further education.

Is your dog choking?

Knowing what to do - when your pet can't breath.

What sounds like choking actually may be a symptom of another condition. Difficulty breathing or choking noises can also occur from conditions such as kennel cough or vomiting. (Note that these conditions may be serious and also require prompt medical attention.)

You'll want to make absolutely sure your dog really is choking before attempting to dislodge any object from its throat—any rescue attempts risk causing injury to your dog and increase your risk of getting inadvertently bitten.

Choking occurs when dog swallows food, bone, a fragment of a toy or another object incorrectly and the object gets stuck in the trachea. A dog that is truly choking will have difficulty inhaling as well as exhaling.

Symptoms of choking include:

  • Lips or tongue turning blue from a lack of oxygen
  • Pawing at the mouth
  • Difficulty breathing
  • General agitation

Whether breathing difficulties occur from choking or another condition, call a veterinarian immediately. If your dog can still partially breathe, your best solution is to focus your efforts on getting it to a veterinarian right away.

Attempt to remove the object

When dealing with any pet emergency, stay calm but move quickly and deliberately. Your dog may be able to sense your panic, and this will only upset it more.

First, carefully open your dog's mouth and see if you can see a foreign object. Be very cautious, a choking dog may panic and reflexively bite.

If you can see a foreign object, and you're sure the dog won't bite, sweep your fingers from the side of the dog's throat to the center to try to remove the object. You can also use tweezers or a small pair of pliers. Always use caution not to push an object further down the dog's throat.

Don't reach down your dog's throat and pull at objects that you can't identify; dogs have small bones inside their throats that can be damaged if you pull on them.

A modified Heimlich

If you can't remove the foreign object manually, try to raise your dog's rear legs above its head. If you have a small dog, hold it with its head facing down, with its back against your stomach. In the case of a larger dog, bend over behind it and lift its rear legs. Sometimes this position alone will help dislodge the object.

If the object still hasn't come free, use a modified version of the Heimlich maneuver to try and dislodge the object. The objective: to sharply push air out of the lungs and push the object forward out of the throat.

For smaller dogs, while still holding the dog upside down against your chest, hold your fist in your hand just below the dog's rib cage. With both arms, pull in sharply five times to expel the object. For larger dogs, perform the same procedure from behind, while holding the back legs in the air.

If your dog has collapsed, place both hands on the sides of your dog's lower rib cage and apply quick thrusts, or strike the side of the rib cage firmly with the palm of your hand 3 to 4 times.

Stop to check the airway periodically to see if the object has become dislodged, and remove it if you can. Repeat thrusts until the object comes free or you arrive at the veterinarian's office.

Remember, don't spend a lot of time trying to remove the object at the expense of transporting your dog to the veterinarian—if you can't dislodge the object right away, concentrate on getting help as quickly as possible.

Avoiding an emergency

In cases of your pet's health, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

You can help prevent choking by:

  • Never giving a dog poultry or fish bones
  • Choosing toys designed specifically for dogs
  • Never giving a dog bones or chews that could be swallowed whole
  • Supervising your dog while he chews on bones, toys or other treats

The American Red Cross offers pet first aid classes in some areas. Check your local chapter to see when and where they are offered. Be prepared, and you could save a pet's life.

Sources:

“Pet First Aid: Basic Procedures.” Website of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). Accessed June 6, 2010, at: http://www.avma.org/firstaid/procedures.asp

“Pet First Aid.” Website of the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA). Accessed June 6, 2010, at: http://www.healthypet.com/PetCare/PetCareArticle.aspx?art_key=cf15470d-b5bb-43de-8ccd-8655990a45fa

“Preparedness Can Lower Risk and Severity of Pet Injuries.” By Joseph Hahn, Information Specialist. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, College of Veterinary Medicine website. Accessed June 6, 2010, at: http://vetmed.illinois.edu/petcolumns/petcols_article_page.php?PETCOLID=92&URL=0

“First Aid and Emergency Care.” By Roger W. Gfeller, DVM, Michael W. Thomas, DVM, and Isaac Mayo. Veterinary Information Network, Inc. Accessed June 6, 2010, at: http://www.veterinarypartner.com/Content.plx?P=A&A=346&S=1&SourceID=20

“Save a Life: Learn Animal CPR.” By Lori H. Feldman, DVM, Greenwich Veterinary Hospital, and Henry J. Feldman, M.D., NYU School of Medicine. Brochure accessed June 6, 2010, at: http://www.berner.org/pages/dogcpr.pdf

“Heimlich For Your Dog.” By PetPlace Veterinarians. PetPlace.com. Accessed June 6, 2010, at: http://www.petplace.com/dogs/heimlich-for-your-dog/page1.aspx


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