What to Do If Your Dog is Choking -
How to Recognize the Signs and Perform the Heimlich Maneuver


person reaching in choking dogs mouth

Over 200,000 dog choking incidents occur in the U.S. each year, costing dog owners over $500,000 in veterinarian fees - not to mention, a huge physical and emotional toll.

At Bow Wow Labs, we are well-versed in the choking dangers dogs face with their favorite chew treats and toys. Indeed, we started a whole business around preventing dogs from choking on bully sticks!

Nothing is more gut-wrenching than witnessing your dog choking and not knowing what to do. Part of being a loving dog parent means learning to recognize the signs of choking so you know when and how to take action.

Getting your dog to the vet quickly is best, but there isn’t always time or it may not be possible, depending on where you are when your dog starts to choke.

Worst-case, you may need to perform the Heimlich maneuver on your dog - read below to learn how. Also, learn how to prevent your dog from choking in the first place.

Signs your dog may be choking

Knowing how dogs act and the symptoms they exhibit when choking is a critical first step in preventing the worst from happening. Here's how to tell if your dog is choking:

Auditory signs: Your pup may make high-pitched, squeaking or whistling noises. These sounds may turn into light or heavy coughing, followed by gagging.

Physical signs: Check your pup’s mouth for signs of a discolored tongue or gums. If she has something lodged in her throat that is blocking her airway, she might not be able to make a noise. Discoloration of her tongue or gums is a sign that oxygen flow is restricted.

Sensory signs: Watch your pup for signs of anxious behavior or panic such as pawing at the mouth, panting, pacing or trouble breathing. Any of these signs may indicate your dog is in the process of choking.

owner comforting scared dog

How to help your dog if he or she is panicking

When a dog is choking and oxygen is cut off to the brain and circulatory system, he will instinctively start to panic. This can make even the calmest of dogs exhibit out-of-control behavior. If your dog is panicking, try to keep him restrained so he doesn't hurt you or himself.

However, do not obstruct your dog’s mouth any more than it already is - you want him to be able to move his mouth around, dislodge or regurgitate the obstruction and breathe freely if he can.

What to do if your dog is choking and has become unconscious

First take a look inside your dog’s mouth to see if you can see the obstruction. If you are able to reach the obstruction, try and remove the blockage, but don’t force anything if you are unsure. If you cannot see the obstruction or are unable to reach it, call your emergency veterinarian right away.

For pups that have become unconscious, here are some tips on performing an emergency Heimlich maneuver - a simple, but effective technique that can also be performed on humans who are choking:

Performing the Heimlich maneuver on a SMALL dog:

1. Place your dog on her back and hold her head up so that her spine is long.

2. Make a fist with one hand, and place it against your dog’s abdomen just where the sternum ends.

3. Grasp the fist with your other hand, and give four or five rapid thrusts inward and upward.

Performing the Heimlich on a LARGE dog:

If your dog is standing, put your arms around her belly, joining your hands from behind. Make a fist and push firmly up and forward, just behind the rib cage.

If your dog is lying down on his side, place one hand on his back for support and use the other hand to squeeze the abdomen upwards and forwards towards the spine. (Do this thrusting motion four or five times. Check the dog’s airway again and clear any debris from his mouth. Repeat the chest thrusts if necessary.

If your dog is unconscious, clear the airway and perform rescue breathing. Check his mouth and remove any objects that may have been dislodged using the precautions described above.

teenage girl lovingly hugging dog

How to prevent your dog from choking in the first place

Dogs are like babies and small children. They like to explore the world through their mouths. And if you don't pay enough attention to what they're exploring, it can increase their risk of choking or ingesting something icky.

1. Be wary of the toys and chews that you give your pup and make sure they are the appropriate size for your pup’s weight, breed and chew strength. Something that is too small can easily be swallowed.

2. Don’t leave your pet alone with chew treats or toys. If small pieces of their chews break off, they can instantly become choking hazards even if they are appropriately-sized for your pup.

3. Use safety products like the Bully Buddy. The Bully Buddy prevents dogs from choking on, or swallowing, that last inch or so of one of their favorite healthy chew treats, bully sticks, by securely clamping onto the end of the stick as your pup chews it down. These types of products will keep your pet safe and give you, the loving dog owner, peace of mind!

puppy getting ready to chew on bully stick with a Bully Buddy

Related Resources

Bow Wow Lab's Top 6 Dog Choking Hazards to Avoid
Solving the Bully Stick Problem
According to the Pet Poison Helpline, These Household Items are The Most Toxic to Your Dog