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No one ever wants to be at the veterinarian because their family pet is sick or injured, and that includes if they’ve ingested something they shouldn’t have or are choking. We’re probably all familiar with cats coughing up hairballs but choking is a far different matter and can be life threatening. More than 200,000 pets are seen by veterinarians every year because of choking incidents.

So how do you know your pet is in choking distress? For a dog, this might look like pacing back and forth or pawing at their mouth. Keep in mind that if their airway is blocked, your pet may not be able to alert you with a bark or a whimper. As for cats, external signs they are choking include an open mouth, excessive salivation, increased breathing movement in the stomach, and making high-pitched or snoring sounds while breathing. In addition, their gums and tongue may also begin to turn blue.

Before we get into how to save a choking dog or cat, let’s talk about prevention. Accidents do happen but pet owners can reduce choking risks. When your pet is chewing on toys, keep an eye on them. Quirky dogs sometimes go straight for plush toy squeakers, which can be a choking hazard. Your pet can chew them into pieces and it may get stuck in their throat. Make sure you only have balls in the house that are too big to get stuck in their airway and keep children’s toys out of reach, especially pacifiers! If your dog is outside and prone to chewing on sticks, it’s especially important to be nearby. Your pet may even choke on their food. Do you have a dog that eats so fast they nearly inhale their food? A slow feeder should be in your future. Slow-feeder bowls look like a maze so that meals take longer to consume.

According to National Pet Choking Prevention Day, the most common choking hazards are:

1. String
2. Window Blind Cords
3. Fishing Pole/Wand Type Toys
4. Plastic
5. Rubber Bands & Hair Ties

1. Balls
2. Sticks
3. Chew Toys
4. Bully Sticks, Treats & Long-Term Chews
5. Food Packaging & Trash

So what do you do if you find your pet choking? Remain calm. Open your pet’s mouth and check for an obstruction. Sweep your finger (or two fingers if it’s a large dog) side to side and see if you can dislodge the object, making sure you don’t push it farther into the airway. If you cannot do this safely without being bitten, contact your vet immediately. If it’s possible to gently pull their tongue forward so you can see deeper, then do. If you are not able to see or dislodge the object, you can perform the Heimlich maneuver. In cats, hold the animal with their back against your chest, feet hanging. Firmly but gently push on the stomach about five times in quick, upward thrusts. For a large dog, hug him at the abdomen (back against your chest), make a fist, and push up and forward. For small dogs, put them on their back and apply pressure to the upper stomach, below the ribcage. After performing the Heimlich, attempt the sweep again. If you’re having trouble, take your pet to the animal hospital.

Like so many things in pet ownership, prevention is far more cost effective and 100 percent less stressful!

August 25, 2023

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