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Heimlich Maneuver For Dogs: How to Save Dogs From Choking

Chantelle Fowler

By Chantelle Fowler

dog choking

Dogs will chew on just about anything they can get their paws on. Not only is this behavior destructive, but it can be dangerous, too. If you’ve ever found yourself in the company of a human that’s choking, you know how terrifying it can be. Now imagine it’s your beloved dog that’s choking. It can’t tell you that it needs help. You need to identify the symptoms and jump right into action.

Whether you’ve recently had a choking scare or are just trying to brush up on your animal first aid skills, we can help. Keep reading to learn how to perform the Heimlich maneuver on dogs.

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What Is the Heimlich Maneuver?

You have probably seen the Heimlich maneuver performed on TV or in movies. The Heimlich maneuver is a first aid procedure that’s necessary when the upper airway is obstructed by a foreign object. Dr. Henry Heimlich is credited for founding this procedure in the 1970s.

Many people don’t realize that the Heimlich maneuver isn’t explicitly reserved for humans. You can perform this life-saving procedure on dogs, too.

Dog Pill Mouth
Image Credit: Jeanette Virginia Goh, Shutterstock

Before You Begin

The Heimlich maneuver can cause serious abdominal harm if it isn’t done correctly or if it’s performed on a pet that isn’t choking in the first place. Though time is of the essence in an emergency, there are some things you must do before you jump into the Heimlich maneuver.

Determine If Your Dog Is Choking

Before you begin the procedure, check for the following choking symptoms:
  • Panic
  • Pawing at the mouth
  • Excessive drooling
  • High-pitched squeaking
  • Whistling
  • Unresponsiveness
  • Unconsciousness
  • Coughing
  • Gagging

Dogs may cough or gag due to tracheal irritation, so a coughing dog may not necessarily be choking.

Check for Foreign Objects

If your pup exhibits some of the above choking symptoms, you must determine what sort of object it is choking on.

Begin by checking the inside of its mouth to see if there are any foreign objects in its throat. If you see something blocking the airway, use your finger to try to sweep it away. If you cannot reach the thing or if it doesn’t budge when you try to sweep it away, you can either rush your pup to the emergency vet or begin the Heimlich maneuver.

If the object lodged in your dog’s throat is a bone, do not try to remove it at home. Bones can have sharp pieces which can cause serious injury to the throat. In this situation, a visit to the emergency vet is unavoidable.

Don’t Panic

We know it’s much easier said than done, but panicking in an emergency situation like this can make matters worse. So take a deep breath and get to business.

How to Perform the Heimlich Maneuver on a Small Dog

The method you use for performing the Heimlich will depend on the size and breed of your dog. Smaller dogs will require a different technique than their larger counterparts.

1. Pick Up Your Dog

You cannot perform the Heimlich on your small breed dog if it’s not in your arms. Pick up your pet and hold them with their back to your front. Approach your dog carefully and use a soothing voice. Even the gentlest dog can bite if it feels afraid.

2. Find the Right Spot

Find the soft spot on your dog’s abdomen. It should be just under its ribs.

3. Apply Pressure

Apply pressure to this spot. Push inwards firmly and upwards five times in a thrusting motion.

4. Check the Mouth

After applying pressure, check your dog’s mouth to see if what was lodged in its throat became loose during step three.

brown spanish dog opening her big mouth
Image Credit: Lucia Romero, Shutterstock

How to Perform the Heimlich Maneuver on a Large Dog

You won’t be able to pick up and hold your dog in your lap if it is a larger breed, so the procedure for performing the Heimlich will be different for your bigger pup.

1. If Your Dog Is Standing

If your dog is standing, wrap your arm and join your hands around its belly. Then, make a fist and press firmly upward just behind its ribcage. Place your pup on its side after.

2. If Your Dog Is Lying

If your pup is lying down, put one of your hands on its back for support while using the other to squeeze its abdomen. You should be pressing upward and forward toward your dog’s spine.

3. Check the Mouth

Check your dog’s mouth to see if any objects were dislodged using the above techniques.

choking dog

After the Choking Stops

Even if the Heimlich maneuver was successful and your dog seems fine, you still need to contact your vet.

Your pup may have gone without oxygen for some time while choking, which can require hospitalization. Choking can also cause damage to the mouth or throat that you may not be able to recognize as an owner and not a veterinarian.

Your vet can also give your pup a once-over to ensure that there was no trauma done to the chest during the Heimlich.

How to Prevent Choking

Choking is terrifying for you and your dog, so the best thing you can do as a pet owner is to try to prevent it.

  • Be watchful. Treat your dog as if it were a small child. You can’t stop either from exploring with their mouths, but you can take steps to ensure they’re not getting into any serious trouble. Keep an eye on your dog as much as you can.
  • Choose safe toys. Avoid chew toys or sticks that will swell when wet, as they can quickly become lodged in the throat. Once your dog’s chew toys, bones, or rawhides become small enough to fit in the mouth, throw them away.
  • Be bone smart. Don’t offer large food chunks or give them T-bones. If you offer bones, never give one that’s small enough to fit completely in your dog’s mouth. Cooked bones are hazardous as they are slightly bendy, which may make it easier for them to cause obstructions.

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Final Thoughts

Choking happens more often than you might think, so knowing how to respond if it happens to your dog is essential. Now that you know how to do the Heimlich to save your pup’s life, you might consider expanding your first aid skill set and inventory. Check out our blog on the best dog first aid kits to get started.

See also: 

Featured Image Credit: McGraw, Shutterstock

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