What to Do if Your Pet is Choking
Despite all the things we do to protect our pets from disease and harm, unfortunate accidents can still happen. As pet parents, it is also our responsibility to be aware of the common accidents that can happen to our pets and what we can do to manage the situation until professional medical intervention can be performed. Upper airway obstruction, more commonly known as choking, is a life-threatening problem that requires an immediate veterinary visit, but in some situations when there is no immediate access to a veterinary professional, first aid treatment should be done to help manage the problem. Keep reading to learn more.
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How to Know if Your Pet is Choking
Knowing how to help your choking dog or cat starts with properly identifying the signs of the problem. The initial symptom you may notice if your pet has something stuck in their throat is harsh coughing or hacking. This is how dogs and cats attempt to remove any object obstructing their throat. Difficulty inhaling is also one of the initial signs that can be observed when a pet is choking.
Other signs that can be observed from a choking dog or cat are excessive pawing at the mouth or head. If airway obstruction is not addressed immediately, the lack of oxygen can result in the dog or cat fainting and losing consciousness.
Being aware of these symptoms can be the difference between life and death for your pet. However, pet owners should note that these symptoms are not exclusive to choking incidents. They can also be an indication of other conditions. Bringing your pet to a veterinarian once any of the signs mentioned above are observed is essential to rule out other possible causes.
First Aid for Choking Pets
Like with any other emergency, it’s important that you stay calm and not panic. Having a clear mind will help you properly assess the situation and perform the necessary steps to help your dog or cat. When you observe any of the signs above, the first thing to do is to check your pet’s mouth to see if there’s any visible foreign body or food trapped inside. This has to be done gently to not add more stress and anxiety than the pet is already feeling.
Any stuck or lodged food or foreign body visible in the oral cavity may be removed by gently pulling or swiping them away to clear the animal’s airway and allow them to breathe again. Be very careful not to push the obstruction further down as this will make the situation much worse.
What if you can’t dislodge the stuck food or object?
In some cases of choking in dogs and cats, the obstruction is located deeper into the throat, and it’s not visible or accessible from the animal’s mouth. In these situations, the pet parent should perform the Heimlich maneuver to dislodge the obstruction.
The Heimlich maneuver, also called abdominal thrusts, is a technique performed in choking individuals to dislodge and remove the obstructing food or object. This is commonly performed in humans who are choking or suffering from upper airway obstruction. Most people think that the technique can only be done in humans and not many are aware that the same emergency maneuver can also be performed in animals that are choking.
The way the Heimlich maneuver technique is performed in pets is different compared to humans, but the concept behind it is pretty much the same. The goal of the technique is to apply enough pressure to the diaphragm to help facilitate the expulsion of air from the lungs and hopefully dislodge any obstruction along the upper airway. Not only does the technique differ across different species, but it also differs depending on the size of the pet.
For smaller dogs and cats, turn the pet over and apply hard pressure on the upper abdomen, around the area beneath the rib cage. The pressure applied should be enough to push out air from the lungs without causing damage to the ribs, muscles, and internal organs.
The approach is different in larger breeds of dogs. One misconception surrounding the Heimlich maneuver in large dogs is that they need to be positioned upright, standing on their hindlimbs, like humans when the technique is performed. This is an unnatural position for dogs and will make it more difficult for them to expel any obstruction stuck in the upper airways.
When doing the Heimlich maneuver in bigger dogs, let them stand on all four limbs but in a slightly tilted, “wheelbarrow” position. Put your arms around the body of the animal, joining at the abdomen. Make a fist with your hands and press hard on the area below the rib cage by pushing up and forward.
After applying pressure about five times, check the pet’s mouth for any signs of obstruction and remove it from the oral cavity. Additionally, you can give the choking pet a hard tap between the shoulder blades to help dislodge any obstruction. If done correctly, this maneuver should be enough to remove any food or foreign object obstructing the pet’s upper airways.
Keep in mind that even if the obstruction has been successfully removed, a visit to the vet is still necessary to make sure the pet has not suffered any complications during the choking episode.
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