First Aid for a Choking Dog or Cat

How to recognize choking

When a pet chokes, an object is blocking their airway fully, or partially. When the airway is partially blocked, this usually gives symptoms such as labored breathing, coughing and gagging, pacing back and forth, retching, panicking, and pawing at their mouth. When the airway is fully blocked, your pet won’t be able to make sound and will lose consciousness fast. If your pet is choking, you can follow the following first aid steps to try and remove the blockage.

First AID

1. Check in the mouth of the pet to see if you can notice an object blocking their airway. If you can see the item that causes the blockage, you can try and remove it with your fingers or tweezers if the pet allows it. If you can’t see any object, do not stick fingers or tweezer down the throat to try and locate an object. 

When you can see the object, make sure to not push the object further into the throat while trying to remove it. Keep in mind that a pet in panic might bite. Never muzzle your pet when they are choking. Big objects like tennis balls can sometimes be removed by applying firm pressure with both of your thumbs underneath the jaw at the base of the throat while pushing forward. Make sure to remove any collar that might be in the way.

2. If step one is unsuccessful, lift the hind legs of the pet up, so they are in a wheelbarrow position. This might help them dislodge the object. Small dogs can be fully lifted from the floor and carefully swung up and down to try and help dislodge the object.

3. If step 2 is unsuccessful, try the Heimlich maneuver. 

Heimlich for cats

Hold the cat upwards against your body, with the paws pointing away from you. This way, their spine should be against your chest. With one hand, make a fist and place it on the belly of the cat. With your other hand, hold the fist and make five powerful thrust up and inwards.

Heimlich for dogs

Depending on the size of your dog, either stand behind them, or lift them, so that their spine is against your chest. Place your arms around the belly of the pet. Make a fist with one hand and cup the other hand around the fist. Keep your fist just below the sternum and ribs. Give five fast, firm thrusts into the belly and up toward the ribs.

If the pet is laying down, use one hand to push or squeeze their abdomen upwards and forwards towards the spine, and place the other hand on the pet’s back. 

After performing the Heimlich, make sure to check the mouth for any objects again.

4. If step 3 is unsuccessful, give a sharp blow with the palm of your hands between the shoulder blades of the pet. Go back to step 3, if step 4 does not resolve the choking. 

5. If you are unsuccessful in dislodging the object within a couple of minutes, rush to your nearest veterinarian. If your pet is unconscious and not breathing, start CPR.


A pet that has choked needs to be seen by a vet. The object may have damaged the throat and airway. If abdominal thrusts are given, ribs or organs may have become damaged. A vet will be able to check the pet, and provide any care that might be needed.

First Aid for a Choking Dog or Cat

How to prevent choking

There are a few steps you can take to prevent your pet from choking. 

  • Feed food that is appropriate to your pet’s size
  • If your pet tends to eat fast, you can consider using a slow feeder bowl. 
  • Use pet toys that are appropriate for their size
  • Keep choking hazards out of range, like small kids toys, discarded food wrappers, etc.
  • Use a properly fitted collar
  • Discard broken toys
  • Keep threads and needles out of range, especially for cats.

The Heimlich Maneuver

A first AID skill that will benefit every pet owner. Performing first aid on a pet that is choking, will increase their chances of survival. We hope to have informed pet owners through this article what they can do when their pet is choking, and how to prevent getting into a situation where first aid would be needed. Because the safety of our fur clients is our priority, all our pet sitters and dog walkers are knowledgeable about first aid for choking. If you would like more information about our overnight pet sitting, dog walking, pet relocation, or dog training services. Feel free to contact us, our team will be happy to help. 

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