Dogs love to chew on all sorts of stuff and gobble down their food. It’s perfectly normal and usually harmless. Occasionally, however, a small object like a ball or stick, a chunk of gristle, a bone, or some other foreign matter gets lodged in the throat and causes choking.
An obstructed airway is a life-threatening emergency, and there’s no time to seek veterinary aid; if your service dog is choking, act swiftly to clear her throat of the obstruction.
How to Tell if a Dog Is Choking
If your assistance dog can’t breathe because of a foreign object lodged in her throat, she’ll panic. Typically, a choking dog paws frantically at her mouth and face and cannot inhale properly. She also won’t make coughing or other sounds. If your dog is inhaling fairly normally and you hear coughing, she isn’t choking. And keep in mind that pawing at the mouth alone doesn’t necessarily indicate choking. Also, a choking dog’s gums may turn blue or she may lose consciousness due to lack of oxygenation.
Clearing the Throat of a Choking Dog Manually
Whether or not your service dog is conscious, your immediate intervention should be to try manually removing the item in her throat. Pry her mouth open and look into her throat for the obstruction. Sweep your fingers through the dog’s mouth and as far back into her throat as possible, scooping anything you come into contact with toward the front of her mouth. Fold her lips over her teeth and take precautions not to get bitten, as even the most mild-mannered canine may bite when suffocating and panicked. Never muzzle a choking dog, though.
The Heimlich Maneuver for a Choking Dog
If you can’t reach or dislodge the obstruction with your fingers, you must force it out with a burst of air up from the diaphragm. If your dog is lying on her side, press down quickly and forcefully on the widest part of her chest with both hands. The foreign object will not fly out of her mouth though, so open her mouth and sweep with your fingers to remove the dislodged obstruction.
Or, you may need to perform the Heimlich maneuver, which is done the same for dogs as for people. Stand your dog on her hind legs, hug your arms around her, place a fist in the middle of her abdomen right below her rib cage, place your other hand over your fist, then press in and up with a quick, forceful motion. Repeat this five times. Again, the object will clear your dog’s throat but remain in her mouth, so remove it with a finger sweep.
If this does not work and your assistance dog is unconscious, perform CPR rescue breathing. Breathe into your dog’s nose while her mouth is closed until her chest rises. Give five breaths, then repeat the Heimlich maneuver, and continue this cycle until the object is dislodged. Look in and sweep your dog’s mouth after each application of the Heimlich maneuver.
If the Heimlich doesn’t work and your service dog is still conscious, stand your dog up. With the palm of your hand, deliver five forceful blows to her back in the middle of the shoulder blades. Look into and sweep her mouth. Continue switching between the Heimlich and the back blows as needed, checking and sweeping the mouth each time, and perform CPR rescue breathing as described above if your dog loses consciousness.
Watch an instructive video that illustrates the basic techniques.
Seek Veterinary Attention
Even though you resolve the immediate choking threat on the spot, bring your assistance dog to the vet or emergency veterinary clinic promptly afterward. Foreign objects stuck in the throat can cause considerable damage and complications, as can prolonged loss of oxygen.
Pay Attention to Prevention
Choking isn’t all that common in dogs, so hopefully you’ll never have to deal with it. A little prevention goes a long way, too. When it comes to protecting her against choking hazards, think of your service dog like a baby, since, like a baby, she’ll put just about anything in her mouth that she can get in there. Keep items that would fit in her throat out of her reach, supervise her as much as possible, break up sizable chunks of food, and don’t let her have chew toys, sticks, and other items that may break up in her mouth or swell by absorbing her saliva.