The Pet Heimlich Maneuver

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If an object lodges in front of your dog or cat’s trachea (aka windpipe), rather than passing down his esophagus (food tube), it may prevent air from reaching your pet’s lungs and result in him going unconscious! 

Animals love to pounce and play catch, run with sticks, and chew on strings, toys, bones and other items that can slip down their throat. It, therefore, is a must that all pet parents know how to help a choking pet as most are likely to experience this type of distress at some point in their life. 

Get down on all fours to keep your pets safe by making sure dangers are out of paws and claws reach! Anything accessible is fair game (i.e. paper clips, thumbtacks, rubber bands, buttons and staples; coins, food, medication), and can become a choking hazard. Also, teach the command, “Leave it!” to prevent a problem in the first place.   

Look for:

  • Loud noise or cough when exhaling
  • Raspy noise during inhalation
  • Gagging or retching as if trying to vomit
  • Pawing at mouth
  • Drooling
  • Outward stretching of the neck (might indicate difficulty breathing)
  • Staggering
  • Pale/blue gums
  • Collapse
  • Loss of appetite (dog not eating due to a minor obstruction where esophagus, not airway, is blocked)

What to Do if your Dog or Cat is Choking

Note: This blog is not meant to replace the training and advice of a medical professional.  Please consider taking a pet first aid class in your area. Your vet may be able to refer you to an organization that offers classes in your area. Nothing in this article should be construed as veterinary advice.

  • Allow pets a moment to cough. Most pets lower their heads attempting to force the object out with a cough, but if unable to do so…  
  • Look inside the mouth if you can do without getting bitten. Never reach in without looking as you could push the object farther back or tear laryngeal tissue by pulling the object. If you are able to carefully retrieve the object, great! Do an inspection of the mouth however, to make sure the object did not puncture or cut which could require a trip to the vet. If you are unable to remove the obstruction…
  • Attempt the doggie or kitty Heimlich-like maneuver.  

Medium to Large Dogs

Do not pick up a choking animal and hold him in front of you like in the human technique! This allows the object to slide farther down the throat. Instead, stand or kneel behind the dog, depending on his height vs yours, and place your arms around his waist keeping his head down. 

Give a “bear hug” as you position your fist in the soft part of his belly behind the last rib and cover your fist with your opposite hand. You should feel a triangular area on his abdomen, the rib cage, and soft space in between. Be sure to make contact with your chest or abdomen against the dog’s back. Then pull your fist up and towards your body 5 times, keeping your choking dog ‘four-on-the-floor’ with head downwards if possible.   

Small Dogs and Cats

This same Heimlich maneuver is also effective on small dogs and cats. Replace your fist, however, with the flat tips of several fingers (to accommodate for the pet’s smaller body size) in the soft part of the belly. Instead of a bear hug, brace the smaller animal’s back with your opposite hand, keeping the pet on the floor or a secure tabletop, and push your fingertips up towards that hand.

Always have a Plan B…

The Heimlich technique is often successful in alleviating an obstruction, still…it’s always good to have a back-up plan. Place the heel of both hands (for large pets) or several fingers (for smaller ones) on each side of the animal’s chest and thrust inward, pushing with your elbows in the direction you want the object to go – out the mouth. After 5 thrusts, give the animal a moment to cough and/or look in his mouth to see if the object is now reachable. If not, repeat.   

With either technique, the piece of kibble may not go sailing across the kitchen floor, so you may need to once again carefully look into the dog or cat’s mouth to retrieve it.  

Stay Aware of Your Pets Safety

Dogs and cats are like furry toddlers. They are dependent on us their entire lives! Pet parents must remain diligent in keeping a safe environment, choosing toys and food wisely, and constantly supervising to keep four-legged family members out of harm’s way. Life does happen, so for those moments, take a pet first aid class where you can properly learn how to help a choking pet before he needs you! 

Protect your Pets with Pet Insurance 

Looking for more ways to keep your pets happy and healthy? Consider investing in a pet insurance policy with MetLife Pet Insurance.1  We offer dog insurance and cat insurance policies for every dog and cat in the family. Get your free quote today. 

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Nothing in this article should be construed as financial, legal or veterinary advice. Please consult your own advisors for questions relating to your and your pet’s specific circumstances.

1 Pet Insurance offered by MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC is underwritten by Independence American Insurance Company (“IAIC”), a Delaware insurance company, headquartered at 485 Madison Avenue, NY, NY 10022, and Metropolitan General Insurance Company (“MetGen”), a Rhode Island insurance company, headquartered at 700 Quaker Lane, Warwick, RI 02886, in those states where MetGen’s policies are available. MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC is the policy administrator authorized by IAIC and MetGen to offer and administer pet insurance policies. MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC was previously known as PetFirst Healthcare, LLC and in some states continues to operate under that name pending approval of its application for a name change. The entity may operate under an alternate, assumed, and/or fictitious name in certain jurisdictions as approved, including MetLife Pet Insurance Services LLC (New York and Minnesota), MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions Agency LLC (Illinois), and such other alternate, assumed, or fictitious names approved by certain jurisdictions.