You walk into the room and right before you can say “drop it”, your dog has swallowed a Lego/sock/golf ball… Now what?
Not only have I experienced it with Sashi, our dog, I’ve met hundreds of pet parents who have panicked in those first moments after the object disappears. It’s complete dread, as you try to figure out what to do next. When a dog or a cat choke, it can be a scary situation for any pet parent. This article explores what to do when your dog has swallowed something.
Curious dogs and cats explore their world by tasting and chewing, but sometimes they bite off more than they can chew. A dog can accidentally inhale whatever they are chewing on, and that can cause choking. Choking hazards include chew toys, balls, rawhides, bones, sticks, etc.—basically anything that is smaller than the windpipe or back of the throat can get stuck. It is a good idea to only let your dog chew on rawhides and toys under supervision and take away the toy or rawhide when your dog chews it down small enough to swallow.
If your dog appears to be choking on a toy or rawhide, keep calm. A dog who is suffocating will panic and may accidentally bite. Avoid bite wounds and never put your hand in your dog’s mouth to retrieve the item. If your dog can still breathe, take your dog to your nearest veterinarian or veterinary emergency center immediately. If your dog can’t breathe, use the Heimlich maneuver to remove the item.
If your dog passes out, then and only then should you open the mouth and see if you can remove the item. Use both hands to open the mouth and grasp the upper jaw while pressing the lips over the dog’s teeth so they are between the teeth and your fingers. Look inside your dog’s mouth and remove the obstruction if possible. If you can’t remove the object, try using a flat spoon to pry it out of the dog’s mouth.
CALL YOUR VET
Depending on the object and how long it’s been since your pooch swallowed it, your vet may recommend giving it time for the object to pass. Or it may be recommended that you bring your dog in immediately to the hospital; this is often your safest course of action. The doctor will likely need to take abdominal x-rays (to help assess the size, shape, position and location of the object), and then, if warranted and safe to do so, the veterinarian may recommended to induce vomiting.
IS IT SAFE TO INDUCE VOMITING?
It’s not recommended you induce vomiting without speaking to your vet first. If the item swallowed is an acid, petroleum, or alkali product, vomiting will cause more damage. The same could be said for sharp objects, vomiting them up could cause serious damage.
If it has been less than two hours though, and if safe to do so, your veterinarian may instruct you to induce vomiting at home. This is often done with an agent such as hydrogen peroxide. Ask your vet if you should feed your dog a small meal first. This is recommended to make vomiting easier on your pet, and to cushion the object, protecting your dog as it comes up.
Signs That a Dog Is Choking
If a dog is suffocating, you can see they will be panicking. A dog may paw at his mouth if something is lodged, though this does not necessarily mean he is choking. Another suspicious sign of choking is an unresponsive or unconscious dog; in these cases, check the throat and mouth for foreign objects.
Almost any small object can cause choking, though the most common are hard rubber balls and chew toys or sticks that have become swollen due to moisture.
WHAT TO DO IF YOUR DOG IS CHOKING?
Be very careful when dealing with a dog that’s choking, as even calm animals will panic when they cannot breathe. Protect yourself by restraining the dog, but do not muzzle your dog.
Removing an item from your dogs’ mouth, while he/she is in a state of panic can be dangerous; another reason we recommend calling your vet first. If you can see the object, and you have an additional set of hands to safely keep your dogs’ mouth open, try to gently remove the item. Be careful not to accidentally push the object further down the throat.
- Use both hands to open the dog’s mouth, with one hand on the upper jaw and the other on the lower.
- Grasping the jaws, press the lips over the dog’s teeth so that they are between the teeth and your fingers. Any dog can bite when they are panicking, so be extremely careful if you are choosing to do this.
- Look inside the mouth and remove the obstruction with your fingers. Sweep your finger across the back of the mouth to feel for any obstruction. *If there are bones lodged deep in the dog’s throat, do not try to pull these out. You will need to take your dog to the vet immediately to have him sedated and the object removed safely.
- If you can’t see the item, you may have success sweeping the mouth. Again, this is safer to do when you have help keeping your dogs’ mouth open. To properly sweep, gently drag your finger from the back of the mouth forward. If you can’t move the object with your fingers but can see it, call your veterinarian or the emergency clinic right away.
If the dog is still choking and you can’t see anything in the mouth, or the dog has fallen unconscious, follow these guidelines:
-Seek immediate veterinary care. If you are unable to do so, for example out in the woods camping, you can consider performing the Heimlich Maneuver.
THE HEIMLICH MANEUVER
We can successfully perform the Heimlich manoeuvre on dogs, it’s even trickier than humans.
– SMALL DOGS: Your dog will likely be panicking but try to lay her gently on her back. With the palm of your hand placed just below her rib cage, push in and up quickly.
– LARGE DOGS: If your dog is standing, wrap your arms around his stomach. Make a fist in on hand, clasping it with the other, push up and forward (into the rib cage). Lay your dog on his side after. If your dog is laying on his side, place one hand on his back for support, and use the other hand to squeeze the stomach up and forward.
The manoeuvre may need to be performed a few times, when done, be sure to check your dogs’ mouth and remove the object. Offer your dog some water and call your vet, it may be a good idea to still bring her in for a check-up. In particular, your vet will be looking for damage to the throat, mouth, and ribcage.
It is likely that objects stuck in the throat may have caused damage. Depending on the length of time the dog was without oxygen and the degree of damage to the throat, the dog may require hospitalization after the emergency is addressed.
In some moderate to severe cases, bronchoscopy (whereby a small camera is inserted into the windpipe to visualize and remove the foreign body) may be recommended to assess the damage. Endoscopy may need to be performed to remove an object stuck in the esophagus. If more foreign material is in the stomach, using the endoscope, it can retrieve the material directly from the stomach to avoid a gastroscopy (open stomach surgery). X-rays may also be recommended before the procedures to better evaluate the patient, and after to make sure the object is completely removed.
Sometimes foreign bodies, such as bones, that are stuck in the esophagus can cause respiratory distress and mimic choking.
The best way to prevent choking is to treat your dog as you would a small child. Although, it is almost impossible to stop them from putting objects into their mouths, you should always be present to keep a close eye on what they are chewing – and doing. Avoid them getting into the garbage, unattended in the garden, for example. Avoid moisture swollen chew toys and sticks and cut up any large pieces of food for them. Do not give your dog T-bones, or bones of any kind as these are also known to cause choking and fracture teeth. Never give your dog a bone even if it fits completely inside his mouth. Take away all bones and chew toys once they can fit within your dogs’ whole mouth. Many dogs will try to swallow an object once it fits completely inside their mouth.
Country Grove Vet is trained to handle emergency medical cases, including choking or accidental ingestion of foreign material. We also offer anaesthesia and patient monitoring, to keep them safe during and after all surgical and emergency procedures. If you suspect your pet may have ingested a poisonous substance, please call the ASPCA Poison Control Centre in Canada: 1-888-426-4435
Resources – OVC-LifeLearn and Pet MD