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There’s a reason that people talk about “wolfing down” your food. If you’re a dog owner, you’ve seen it. A dog gets a bit excited, a bit greedy, and then — down the hatch! Or maybe they simply — and literally — bite off more than they can chew. Choking happens, and it can happen in the blink of an eye.
If you saw your dog choking, would you know what to do?
About The Heimlich Maneuver
The “Heimlich maneuver” was described by American Dr. Henry Heimlich in 1974. It’s one in a series of things you can do to clear an upper airway obstruction.
When performing the maneuver, a person stands behind the victim, holds one fist in the other, and presses both hands quickly back against the upper diaphragm, and upward. This causes the lungs to push air back up through the throat, hopefully dislodging whatever is causing the blockage.
This video can show you how to do the maneuver on a choking human.
A Heimlich Maneuver…For Dogs?
But with a dog, choking might look different. Your dog may, for example, paw at his or her mouth. They may panic — understandably. You might also find them unconscious.
Your position in performing the maneuver will also be different. And though you can give another person instructions, like “calm down,” or “try to cough,” this won’t work with a dog.
Finally, the Heimlich maneuver is hard on the body, and since your dog won’t understand what’s happening, the situation could be dangerous for both of you.
So, how do you proceed?
First Steps and Precautions
First, stay calm and keep yourself safe. If you can get another person to help, this would be best.
Pet MD recommends first opening your dog’s mouth to see if you can spot the obstruction. If it’s a bone or stick lodged in the throat, don’t try to remove it yourself. This is a job for the vet. You can try to remove other obstructions yourself, using your fingers or forceps, if you have them. If you do this, Pet MD recommends folding your dog’s lips over their teeth, to put their lips between their teeth and your fingers, just in case.
If you can’t remove the object, First Aid For Life recommends holding your dog upside down, or in a “wheelbarrow” position, and gently shaking. Using gravity to clear the airway is a lot easier on the body than the Heimlich, so try this first.
If Gravity Doesn’t Work
If gravity doesn’t work, there is a modified Heimlich maneuver you can use with dogs and other animals.
For a small dog, Pet MD recommends laying your dog on his or her
Alternately, for a larger dog, you can do the maneuver with your dog standing on all fours. Place your hands in the Heimlich position, behind their rib cage. Then press firmly and quickly forward toward their chest.
In all cases, First Aid For Life recommends no more than five thrusts. If that doesn’t work — or even if it does — it’s time to get to the vet, fast.
An Ounce of Prevention
We call our dogs our babies, and in many ways, it’s true. This is definitely the case for choking prevention.
If you have a small dog, make sure that toys and treats are sized for small dogs. Keep an eye on their toys and playthings. Only buy balls that are too big to choke on, and be wary of sharp sticks and bones. Never give your dog cooked bones, as they can shatter. And take away all toys and bones once they’re small enough to fit completely inside your dog’s mouth. Many dogs will try to swallow something if it’s completely inside their mouth!
Choking is a danger for dogs, as well as for people. And it can be frightening to see it happen. But if you know what to do, and keep a cool head, there’s a lot you can do to help.
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