What to Do If Your Dog Is Choking

Discover the signs of a choking dog, plus how to perform the Heimlich on small, medium, and large dogs.

Updated January 31, 2024
woman examining dog

If your dog is choking, you'll need to get them to a veterinarian ASAP. However, you may find yourself in a situation where you have to act fast before you can reach a vet. Review these step-by-step instructions to prepare yourself for this scenario or follow them to provide life-saving care for a choking dog. 

Dog Choking Symptoms

Dogs that are choking will display some obvious choking behaviors including:

  • Pawing frantically at their mouth
  • Extreme coughing or gagging
  • Drooling
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Blue gums
  • Bulging eyes

If your dog is choking but still breathing, they will eventually become unconscious if they continue unaided. While these signs indicate a dog may be choking, they also can be symptoms of other problems.

Dr. Barton C. Huber, DVM, from Animal Medical Center of Corona, says, "In my 31 years of doing this, I have rarely seen a dog that truly has something stuck in its throat. Most of the time it ends up being kennel cough (or some other infection) or a primary heart or lung problem." Regardless, if you see your dog displaying any of these symptoms, Dr. Huber says, "Bottom line - get the dog to a vet ASAP!"

Related: Are Tendon Chews Safe for Dogs? Treat Options to Try

What to Do to Save a Choking Dog

veterinarian examining dog's troth

Dr. Huber says if your dog needs help immediately, the first thing to do is look to see "if the obstruction is visible."

  1. "Remember that a panicking dog may bite, even if not on purpose," he cautions. You should do what you can to protect yourself from a potential bite, but absolutely do not put a muzzle on.
  2. Having a second person there to restrain the dog helps, but if you are by yourself, you will need to get a hold of the dog's snout with both hands.
  3. Hold the top of the dog's snout with your hand and the lower jaw with your other hand.
  4. One way to minimize the chance of being bitten is to use the tips of your fingers to push the dog's "lips" (found around his muzzle) so that they cover the teeth. Keep in mind, though, there is a strong chance you may end up being bitten during the process.
  5. Slowly pull the dog's mouth open with both hands and see if there is an obvious obstruction. If you are not alone, having someone holding a flashlight over the dog's muzzle can help.
  6. If you can see an object, Dr. Huber recommends "grabbing, or scooping it out with fingers, if possible." Be very careful to not push the object in further.
  7. Many websites suggest using an object to pull or move the obstruction out, such as a fork, spoon, or tweezers. Dr. Huber advises against this, "as they could grab the tissue and make things worse. You don't want to end up pushing it further in, whether stuck in the pharynx (back of mouth), esophagus or trachea. You could do more damage than good."
  8. Even if you remove the object successfully, you should bring your dog to a veterinarian right away to make sure the dog's mouth, throat, or esophagus are not damaged.

The Heimlich Maneuver

If you can't see an obstruction when you open your dog's mouth, you can try the canine version of the Heimlich Maneuver. The steps differ based on the size of your dog. 

Says Dr. Huber, "Different body shapes have different techniques (English Bulldog versus Greyhound) so there is no 'universal' technique." He says in general, "The idea is to create enough pressure in the body to forcefully blow out whatever is stuck in the dog's airway."

Need to Know

Heimlich Maneuvers, even when done properly, have the potential to break ribs and cause other damage. They should only be used in extreme circumstances, and your animal should see the veterinarian right away afterward, even if the choking is alleviated.

Heimlich on Small Dogs

To start, you will need to be able to pick your dog up.

  1. Place them seated in your lap with their back against your chest. 
  2. Place your hands below their ribcage. 
  3. Make a fist and apply pressure just under the ribcage using an in and up motion. 
  4. After 5 firm thrusts, place your dog on their side and check their mouth to see if anything was dislodged. 

Place a Choking Dog on Its Side

For medium and large size dogs, lay the dog down on its side on the ground. It needs to be a hard surface, so avoid laying them on a bed or pillow.

  1. Lift the dog's back end up and place something underneath so that the dog's head is lower than the rear. You can use whatever is handy — a pillow, a rolled-up towel, or piece of clothing.
  2. Support the dog by placing a hand on their back.
  3. Using your other hand, place it on the dog's rib cage area and press into the ribs while moving your hand toward the front of the dog. Picture visually moving an object from the dog's abdomen up through the esophagus to get an idea of the direction you want your hands to move.
  4. You should do this maneuver no more than five times.
  5. Depending on the size of the dog, you may need to use both hands to do the maneuver.

Dog Choking While Standing

Another method for medium to larger dogs can be done with the dog standing up, assuming your dog is still able to.

  1. Bending over your dog from behind, place both of your arms underneath your dog's belly.
  2. You can also lift their back legs up, so they're in a wheelbarrow position, but for very large dogs, you may not have the strength to lift them.
  3. Holding both hands together into a large fist, push up into the dog's abdomen while moving up toward the dog's head.
  4. You can also try pressing hard in between the dog's shoulder blades with the palm of your handle quickly for 4 to 5 times. This possibly can move the object enough that the dog can spit it out.
Need to Know

Remember that after you try the Heimlich maneuver, you will need to bring your dog to the veterinarian as soon as possible, even if the dog is no longer choking.

Protect Dogs From Choking

Knowing basic canine first aid, including how to do the Heimlich maneuver on a dog, can someday save your canine friend's life. If you have a dog that is prone to swallowing objects, make sure you "puppy proof" your house and remove access to anything dangerous such as small toys, plastic items, and even certain dog chews such as rawhides.

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What to Do If Your Dog Is Choking