It only takes a second for a pet to start choking.
A piece of toy or food can lodge in your pet’s throat putting his life in immediate danger. “Choking is a life threatening emergency, so it is good to know the proper steps to take,” said Sarah DeLone, the education program director at the Monroe County Humane Association in southern Indiana, who teaches the Red Cross' Pet First Aid course.
If you notice your dog or cat start to choke, take action. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, if a choking pet is still breathing, rush them to the vet for immediate attention. If you need to perform first aid immediately, first look in your pet’s mouth with a flashlight. Sometimes the object can be dislodged by sweeping a finger carefully across the inside of the mouth. Be careful not to lodge the item further. Pull the animal’s tongue forward to check the throat. If an object can be removed safely, do so immediately.
Start the Dog Heimlich
If the object is not removed during the finger sweep, start abdominal thrusts. The Red Cross recommends lifting a dog by his front legs with his spine against your chest and compressing five times under the ribs. Or, if the dog can’t safely be lifted, perform the compressions standing behind the dog. Check the mouth and remove the dislodged object. If it’s still stuck, lift the dog so that his head is facing down or, for dogs too large to lift, suspend their back legs over their head. Continue to perform compressions until the object is dislodged. If needed, begin CPR with five rescue breaths.
If Your Cat is Choking
Follow the same protocol with a choking cat, though the Red Cross suggests holding the cat’s scruff if he can’t safely receive the compressions. Having these skills in advance of an emergency is critical. You don’t want to stop and look up the steps in the midst of a crisis.
“I think the best way to be calm and prepared for any type of emergency is to review and practice the steps of what to do. When you really learn information well and practice it, you are much more likely to be able to retrieve the information when needed,” said DeLone. “I also make sure I always have contact information and directions for an emergency vet available if needed, so that I don't waste time looking for that information.” She recommends purchasing the American Red Cross Pet First Aid books, available in dog and cat versions. Pet owners can take the Red Cross’ Pet First Aid course or purchase the book to serve as a resource.
Visit the American Red Cross website to find a first aid course near you to prepare for emergencies like choking.
Maggie is a writer and author, whose first book, Clicker Dog Training: The Better Path to a Well-Behaved Pup was published by Open Air Publishing. When she's not writing (or reading books about grammar), she teaches writing courses to college students and professionals who want to nail down the basics of communication. Outside of work, she hikes, throws dinner parties, plays with her three dogs and cat, and travels as much as possible.