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In this lesson, you'll be learning what to do if your dog or cat is suddenly choking and cannot breathe. We'll be sharing with you three techniques, with one being specifically for smaller dogs and cats.

Choking can occur suddenly in dogs and cats who are chewing on food, treats, or a toy. If your pet is choking, she may suddenly react in a variety of ways, including:

  • Becoming very anxious
  • Pawing at her face
  • Visibly struggling to breathe

You may also notice that her gums have turned blue or grayish in color.

Pro Tip #1: While this is a scary situation for both you and your pet, it's so important for you to stay calm and assess your pet. It's no secret that the human brain works better when calm.

If your pet is conscious, the first thing you'll want to do is inspect her mouth. To look into her mouth, you'll need to pry her jaws open (taking care not to get bitten), grasp her tongue, and pull it forward.

Pro Tip #2: Trying to grab a slippery tongue is no easy task. To make it easier, use a piece of gauze or the sleeve of your shirt to pull the tongue forward.

Once you've done that, use your finger to check the back of her mouth and try to dislodge the object.

Warning: You need to be careful doing this, as you can inadvertently push the stuck object further in and make it even more stuck.

Modified Heimlich Thrusts for Larger Dogs

If trying to dislodge the object with your fingers didn't work, you may need to provide modified Heimlich thrusts, and this will vary based on the size of your pet.

Pro Tip #3: For larger dogs, find the area just behind the sternum – that bony area along the middle part of the chest and along the ribs. When you can no longer feel bones or ribs and you feel only soft belly, you'll know you're in the right spot.

The Technique – Your Pet is Laying Down

  1. Locate the area we've described above.
  2. Place one cupped hand over the other fist and place both on that spot.
  3. Give 5 quick abdominal thrusts. You want to do this back toward the spine and forward toward the head.
  4. Go back to the mouth and see if the thrusts dislodged the object.

The Technique – Your Pet is Standing Up

If you or your pet are more comfortable doing this while she is in a standing position, follow the steps below.

  1. Get behind your dog.
  2. Put your hand or hands behind where the ribs end, or in other words, on her belly just below the ribs.
  3. Place two hands on that spot just as before, or one if you're holding your pet's front half with one hand.
  4. Give 5 quick abdominal thrusts toward the spine and her head.
  5. Go back to the mouth and see if the thrusts dislodged the object.

If the abdominal thrusts don't work, it's time to switch to back blows.

Back Blow Technique

  1. Find your pet's shoulder blades by feeling for the boney structures along her back, just at the top of her front legs.
  2. Find the spot just behind the shoulder blades.
  3. Give 5 quick blows to the back in the direction toward the head, so in other words, at a bit of an angle.
  4. Go back to the mouth and see if the thrusts dislodged the object.

Continue to alternate between abdominal thrusts and back blows, checking the mouth in-between, until either you dislodge the object, or your pet becomes unconscious, which we'll cover in the next lesson.

Modified Heimlich Thrusts for Smaller Dogs and Cats

For cats and smaller dogs, the technique might be easier if you perform it while your pet is standing upright on her two hind legs.

  1. Hold your pet in that standing position with her spine along your chest.
  2. Find the soft area of her belly, just below the firm area that includes the ribs and sternum.
  3. Give 5 quick abdominal thrusts with either one hand or two. You may find it easier to hold your pet up (under her front armpits) using one hand while you perform the thrusts with the other. Make sure the thrusts are up and back, always in the direction of head.
  4. Go back to the mouth and see if the thrusts dislodged the object.

It should go without saying (and yet, here we are saying it anyway) that watching these techniques is much better than reading about them. To practice or for a quick refresher, watch the corresponding video for this lesson, as Dr. Bobbi shows you in much greater detail exactly how to perform each of these techniques listed above.