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pet owner helps their cat who is choking

What to Do if My Pet Chokes!?

The possibility of your cat or dog choking is a pet parent nightmare. For many pet owners it’s a significant concern and not an unfounded one either.

Once we have four paws in the house, we quickly get used to cats taste testing anything within jumping reach. Dogs on the other hand will taste test most things off the floor. This is pretty grizzly at the best of times.

But worse than our four-pawed friend eating weird and wonderful stuff from wherever is the possibility of them choking on it. So what do we do (and how) if this scary scenario rears its freaky head? Be in the know and find out now.

How to know if a dog or cat is choking

Unlike coughing and accidental ingestion, choking is when something is stuck in the windpipe or esophagus (food pipe). The esophagus runs right alongside the windpipe, so if it’s blocked that can still press into and close the airways.

The obstruction might partially or fully obstruct your pet’s breathing – consider it to be an emergency. If their airway is partially blocked they may panic but will still be able to get some air. But if it’s completely blocked and they can’t breathe, then they won’t make any choking sounds and will quickly fall unconscious.

If your cat or dog is choking you’ll need to act swiftly to help them. First things first is being able to identify that they are in fact choking. If yes, there are some common signs to look for. Here’s a list:

  • Blue coloured skin and mucous membranes (if the object is blocking them from breathing)
  • Collapse
  • Coughing
  • Drooling
  • Extreme distress
  • Gagging / retching
  • Pacing
  • Pawing at the mouth
  • Rubbing their face against the ground

As pet owners you want to know what to do before it ever happens. (You don’t want to be googling ‘how to help my choking dog or cat‘ when it’s actually happening). Knowledge is power!

If your cat or dog is choking they may drool excessively

How to help a choking cat or dog

If your cat or dog is choking, there is more than one possible option you could use to dislodge the item and potentially save their life. Firstly, you need to gently restrain them because in their panic they’re likely to bite and scratch you. If you have someone with you have them help hold your cat or dog.

Open their mouth widely and if you can see an object, try taking it out with your fingers (or tweezers / tongs). Don’t do this if it’s going to push the item further back. If this isn’t working, you’ll have to step it up.

The option used by vets in severe situations where the pet can’t get oxygen tends to be similar to the Heimlich manoeuvre. This essentially pushes air or creates pressure from below the blockage, and helps it to pop out.

Other info for assisting a choking pet

Now that you’ve read about what to do, learn it visually. Some things just need to be demonstrated for the full impact. Watch this video from First Aid for Life to see how to help a choking cat:

Dogs have a slightly different mouth to cats and they’re often also bigger, so watch how to perform the methods to help a dog choking here:

If you’ve dislodged the item that’s been causing choking and your pet is still unconscious, you need to try resuscitate them. Read about and see what to do in our animal CPR article. Whether or not you can remove the problem item, you should get your pet to the vet.

Your vet might be able to take actions you can’t and your cat or dog might need additional care because of physical trauma and damage.

Causes of dogs and cats choking

A common cause of choking is eating too fast. And eating too fast is something pets often do. Besides sticking to a structured routine to reduce any anxiety around food that your pet might have, you could also get them an anti-choke pet bowl, also known as a slow food pet feeder.

This puzzle-type pet feeder helps slow your pet down while they’re eating. The interactive element of challenging them to get every last morsel of their lunch is also pretty stimulating.

Cats are great at self-grooming, which is a positive for us cat parents. But sadly it is possible for them to choke on furballs. Usually they can dislodge these on their own (but not always). So while they’re keeping an eye on their good looks, it’s not a bad idea to keep an eye on them.

Cats may show signs of choking when objects get stuck on their upper palette. Because they’re not choking in the technical sense and only using coughing or retching to move the object, these signs will be intermittent. However, if they are actually choking, signs are constant.

Allergic reactions and reactions to toxins can also cause restricted airways and result in symptoms of choking. Read about things that can poison your pet to know what to look out for.

Dogs can and often do choke on toys. It’s not uncommon for a dog to arrive at a vet after swallowing their entire ball. As we mentioned above, there’s more than one way to dislodge an object choking your dog. Watch this vet in action as she releases a ball from not one but two dogs on the same day:

Accidental ingestion is also a danger

So, not only is choking in pets common, but sometimes they end up swallowing the object. This can cause intestinal blockages that require surgery (eek!). You can read about what this entails in our article on accidental ingestion.

You should also be aware of common ingestible items that seem totally innocent. Like beach sand, for example, that gets on your dog’s toys, into their mouth and all the way to the intestine. Sand impaction can be serious and it’s one reason you should know about pet safety at the beach or lake.

Just like dog chews – in particular, rawhide can be dangerous for dogs.

Cat and dog insurance for a soft landing

If your cat or dog is choking, we hope this article helps you and them. There are many amazing ways to safeguard our furrier friends. Besides having knowledge to know what to do in a pickle, having pet insurance goes a long way.

Cat insurance and dog insurance are both free for your fur-st month with PD Insurance (and depending on the age of your pet, even longer)! These plans help you cover hefty costs like vet treatments, surgery, hospital stays, medication and more. It pays to get your safety net in place before you need it with a pet plan.

Click below to start today.

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