Pet Choking Hazards and the Heimlich Maneuver

Apr 8, 2019   Tracey Aston   Pet Safety

I don't have to tell you, our pets are curious beings. They can also be overly enthusiastic and live in the moment. That's part of the reason we love them. It's also part of the reason they can end up in danger. Most pet parents believe pets are safe and secure in the home, but for those spontaneous and curious souls that we love so much, there can be hidden dangers everywhere. One such danger is choking hazards and they are probably more common than you think. 

Food and treats: Some pets are picky and will nibble at their food all day, others attempt to inhale theirs. Some pets are so zealous at dinner time they risk choking on their food and treats. If you're having problems getting your pet to slow down during meal time, our article on slow and raised feeders explains the benefits of slow feeders and their use in reducing the risk of choking. 

Balls: Plastic, rubber or tennis balls can be a choking hazard depending on the size. Always make sure your pet's toys are the appropriate size for them and never give a cat toy or small toy to a large dog. An important fact many pet parents don't know is a pet is at greater risk for choking when jumping for a ball. Dogs normally will jump straight into the air, with their heads back. This opens and elongates the throat allowing for items to easily slip into the throat canal. If you are playing ball with your pet, it's better to toss the ball towards your pet horizontally. 

Sticks: Dogs love to play fetch but sticks are definitely not the best option for play time. Sticks can easily break and splinter into smaller pieces and become a choking hazard.

Chew Toys: Properly sized pets chew toys are normally very safe items for our pets. However, be aware of any broke pieces, ripped fabric or stuffing that many be visible through the toy. If your pet has ripped open a toy with a squeaker, immediately mend the rip or remove the squeaker. The small plastic squeaker can easily enter a dog's throat, especially if they are chewing or playing and lodge in their throats. 

Children's Toys: Blocks, baby doll accessories, matchbox cars, army men, and all types of bits and pieces of children's toys have small pieces that are a choking hazard to pets.  Be sure to keep all small items out of the reach of pets.

Rocks: This can be a little confounding, but pets love rocks! They love to bat them, sniff them, roll them and unfortunately, pick them up in their mouths. Not only are rocks a choking hazard, if the rock does happen to pass through the throat, the rock is still a huge risk as they can't be safely passed and surgery will be required to remove the rock. Depending on the size of the stone or rock, this could quickly become an emergency waiting to happen. 

String and Yarn: This is a big one for cats! Not only are string and yarn dangerous choking hazards, they are also an intestinal blockage hazard. Never let your pets play with loose string or yarn and inspect all rope type toys for loose pieces. If you see your dog or cat and see the string hanging from your pet's rectum, do NOT under any circumstance pull on the string. It could be wrapped around other organs and pulling the string could cause major damage. A trip to the veterinarian or animal hospital will be required to safely remove a stuck piece of string or yarn. 

Rawhide bones: Not only are rawhide bones extremely hard to digest, they are difficult to emulsify and pets are trying to swallow still hard and jagged pieces of rawhide.  We at Comfort at Home are against any type of rawhide. Rawhide is not only a serious choking risk but also an intestinal blockage risk. 

Plastic Wrap: Our pets love anything that smells of food! Since leftover are often wrapped in plastic wrap, pets will attempt to lick any pieces of food or juices and can inhale the plastic wrap, causing a blockage in the throat. 

Plastic bags and Ziploc bags: Similar to plastic wrap, plastic grocery bags and sandwich bags can be extremely dangerous to our pets. In addition to a suffocation hazard, if the pet attempts to lick leftover food out of the bags, they can easily inhale it, blocking the airway. 

Heimlich maneuver for choking:

Step 1:  If your pet is conscious, check the airway for obstructions and clear the airway of any debris. If the obstruction is at the back of the mouth, grasp the debris with your fingers or pliers and gently pull forward.

If you can't get the object out, continue to step 2.

Step 2 for large dog: Stand behind your dog, and make a fist with one hand, and place it against your dog's abdomen where the sternum ends. With the other hand, grasp your fist and push upward and forward. Do this thrusting motion four or five times. Check the dog's airway again and clear any debris.

Step 2 for a small dog: Hold the dog against you, so the dog's spine is against your chest. Use two fingers and place it against your dog's abdomen just where the sternum ends. Use your two fingers to give four or five rapid thrusts inward and upward. Or place hands on each side of the chest and press inward to push the air up and out. Check the dog's airway again and clear any debris from the mouth.

Step 2 for cats: Lay the cat on their side, put one hand on their back and the hand on the cat's abdomen just below the ribs and give several sharp pushes in and up. If your cat won't lie still, you can pick the cat up and place his spine against your stomach and then give the several sharp pushes against the abdomen. Check the cat's airway again and clear any debris from the mouth. Thumb and forefingers on each side and squeezing right below the rib cage.

If you pet goes unconscious during the Heimlich, again attempt to remove object, start compressions. The object needs to be removed before rescue breathing can be attempted.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The easiest way to reduce the likelihood of a pet choking is to keep the above items out of their reach at all times. In the event a choking does occur, it's critical to know how to safely perform the Heimlich Maneuver on your pet. Remain calm, as best you can, and follow the above steps to dislodge any items stuck in a pet's airway.  We can't change our pets curious and enthusiastic ways, but we can protect them from themselves with a little forethought and knowledge. 

Certified Professional Pet Sitter
PetTech CPR & First Aid Certified
PPG Badge
Pet Sitters International
National Association of Professional Pet Sitters
Angieslist 2015 Super Servica Award
Angieslist 2016 Super Service Award
Shock Free
Pet First Aid/CPR Certified
Pittsburgh's Professional Pet Sitters Network
Bite Prevention Educator
Doggone Safe
2020 Nextdoor
Fear Free Logo
National Association of Professional Pet Sitters Certification