Dogs use their mouths to explore the world around them. Unfortunately, this can cause some problems when they eat things they aren't supposed to. If you're lucky, whatever your dog eats will pass through his system without causing any issues.
However, sometimes it may upset his stomach or get lodged in his digestive tract somewhere. What if it doesn't make it past his throat? Do you know how to save your dog if he is choking?
Did you miss last week's column about how to take great photos of your dog?
Did you know that a canine's anatomy has built-in safeguards to prevent choking? That doesn't mean that it is impossible for your pet to choke, it just means that it is rare. You see, the human larynx is similar to that in other animals, with one major difference. Our larynx is pulled further down our neck and it also pulls the tongue with it.
Thankfully, this is what gives us the ability to speak. Unfortunately, it's also what gives us the ability to choke on our food. The canine larynx is very similar to the human larynx, but dogs have shorter vocal folds which are pushed up just above the root of their tongues.
This means that a dogs' soft palate touches his epiglottis when he rests. I know, what in the world does that mean? In layman's terms, the soft palate is a spongy piece of tissue located in the back of a dog's mouth. It separates his oral and nasal cavities.
The epiglottis is a tiny piece of cartilage in your dog's throat that flips down and covers his esophagus when he swallows. If the epiglottis and the soft palate touch, there is complete separation between your dog's air tube and his food tube – making choking almost impossible.
How to Save Your Dog from Choking
In the event that your dog does choke, the first thing that you need to remember is DON'T PANIC. I know that is a lot easier said than done, but it's vital to the success of your efforts to save your canine companion. If you can keep clam, or as calm as possible, you'll be able to think more clearly and get things done quicker.
If your dog is choking, every second wasted panicking is one more second that your pet spends in distress.
Evaluating the situation needs to be your first priority. Is your dog coughing at all? Is he pausing between the noises that he's making? Coughing and pausing for air are both signs that your dog may not actually be choking.
If your dog seems to be wheezing, coughing or gasping for breath you should call your veterinarian immediately. If he's able to get air he'll be okay for the short term, but he probably has something lodged in his throat somewhere. Any action you take to help your dog could lodge the item even further down his throat or do damage to his throat.
Try your best to keep your dog calm. The more agitated he becomes, the more air he will need. Talk soothingly to him and try to keep him still. Observe him for these signs of choking:
- Standing with his head and neck held down low in a straight line
- Gagging or excessive drooling (pay attention to whether or not he can swallow; if he can, it's less likely that there is a physical blockage)
- Coughing, gasping for breath or wheezing
- Acting unusually anxious or panicking
- Pawing at his mouth
- Grey or blue gums
- Exaggerated chest movements
- Lose of consciousness
Encourage your dog to swallow. You can do this by rubbing his throat gently. If he swallows and the symptoms do not go away, look inside his mouth. If you can see an object obstructing his airway you'll need to remove it. This will be easiest if you have someone to help you.
Have another person hold your pet firmly while you open his mouth and remove the object. If no one else is with you, straddle your dog and use your body weight to hold him down. Using both hands, pry his mouth open and look to see if there is anything obstructing his airway. If so, remove it.
If you cannot see the object, you're going to have to help your dog dislodge it. If you don't have any training and you've never experienced anything like this before, call your veterinarian before doing anything else. They should be able to walk you through some common first aid steps to help your Fido.
The Red Cross offers canine first aid classes. If you're dog owner, it would be wise to see if one is available in your area.
Some suggestions that your veterinarian may make include:
- Lifting your dog's hind legs in the air, as gravity may help him dislodge the object
- Using back blows
- The canine Heimlich maneuver
You should not try any of these methods to help your dog without proper instruction. Taking a pet first aid class would be ideal, but if you haven't done that you need to wait for instructions from your veterinarian's office. Performing any of these actions in an improper way could do serious harm to your dog.
RELATED: Preparing Your Dog for an Emergency
The most common items dogs choke on
Cooked bones and rawhide chews are two of the most common things that dog's choke on.
Cooked bones can splinter and small pieces will get lodged in your dog's throat. Small pieces of rawhide become malleable when moistened by your pup's saliva and may cause he believe he can swallow it whole.
Chewing on sticks and chew toys can also be a danger. Sticks will splinter, just like cooked bones. Chew toys can be ripped into small pieces, which become choking hazards. Be sure to select toys that are appropriate for your dog's size and type of chewer that he is.
If you've got small children in your home, you need to be mindful of their toys as well. Small toys or pieces from larger toys are intriguing to dogs, and they can easily be swallowed whole. Talk with older children about the importance of picking up their toys and be sure to keep an eye on your dog if he goes in a playroom or your child's bedroom where toys will be easily accessible.
Rocks can be extremely dangerous, and many dogs enjoy chewing on them. You should never allow your pet to chew rocks! And don't forget the garbage. Plastic wrap, bones, aluminum foil and many other hazards may be lurking in the trash can. Be sure to keep your garbage where your dog cannot get into it.
Now it’s your turn
Have you ever had an experience with a choking dog? How did you handle it? Do you have any other tips and tricks to share with pet parents?
Do you know where pet first aid courses are held in your area? We'd love to hear what you have to share, and your comments may be able to help other dog owners as well.