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Heimlich Maneuver for Dogs

Dhicon_thumb By DogHeirs Team | May 18, 2012 | Comments (0)

dog first aidDo you know what to do if your dog is choking? Knowing a few emergency procedures, such as CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) and the Heimlich maneuver for dogs, is critical to saving lives because you may not have time to get to a vet and your dog could suffocate.

Dogs love to  chew bones, sticks, toys, socks and anything small enough to fit into their mouths. But on occassion, an object may become dangerously lodged in your dog's throat or windpipe.

If your dog is choking and suffocating, he will likely panic. A dog signals he is choking by either: coughing violently, wheezing, gasping for breath, pawing at his mouth, and/or has his eyes bulging out.


Check your dog's mouth for the lodged object

If your dog cannot clear the object from his throat himself within a few seconds, immediately check your dog's mouth. Always be extremely careful when attempting to remove anything from your pet's mouth because you could push the object farther down your dog's throat, tear at the throat tissue, damage a dog's throat bones, or get bitten in the process.

  1. Open your dog's mouth. Put one hand on the upper jaw with your thumb on one side and your other fingers on the other side.
  2. With your other hand, push gently down on the lower jaw, and keep your index finger free to sweep to the back of your dog's mouth.
  3. Look inside the mouth to see if you can see the obstruction and reach it with your fingers. Do not grab something you simply feel. Dogs have small bones that support the tongue, so you can seriously injure them if you assume the bones are a foreign object. If you do see the object, be very careful not to push the object further down your dog's throat and do not attempt to extract it if it does not come out easily. 

Move on to either tilting your dog or the Heimlich maneuver:

  • if you cannot see anything in the dog's mouth
  • you cannot remove the object with your hands
  • if your dog has fallen unconscious.

Titling a small dog to clear an airway


Titling a dog

The first option to try is to see if you can dislodge the object using gravity.

For a small dog: pick the dog up by his thighs, with his belly toward your face, while gently shaking him. 

For a large dog: with the dog standing on all fours, pick up the dog's rear legs like you would a wheelbarrow, and tilt him forward. 

If tilting the dog does not work to dislodge the object, move on to perform the Heimlich maneuver.

Heimlich maneuver for a dog

Only use the Heimlich maneuver if you are certain your dog is choking on a foreign object, as it can cause additional injury.

Be careful when using this method, as you could potentially cause damage to a dog's internal organs if you apply too much force. Canine ribs are more flexible than human ones and thrusting can cause the lungs to flail, which may not create enough pressure to expel the foreign object.

The technique is basically the same as for a human. There is a slight variation between treating a small dog and a medium or large dog.

For a small dog:

  1. Kneel behind the dog, with the dog facing away from you.
  2. Put your arms around the dog's waist.
  3. Instead of making a fist, use a few knuckles of one hand and place them just below your dog's last set of ribs on the soft part of the abdomen.
  4. Place your other hand flat on the dog's back to keep him steady.
  5. Give a quick, hard poke with your knuckles.
  6. Press in and up four to five times gently, in a thrusting motion. Do not repeat more than four to five times.
  7. If the dog is lying down, place one hand on the back for support and use the other hand to squeeze the abdomen upwards and forwards.
  8. Check the dog's mouth and remove any objects that may have been dislodged with your fingers.

If you are unable to dislodge the item, you may need to perform CPR to provide oxygen to the dog while someone rushes you to a veterinarian.

For a medium or large dog:

  1. Stand behind the dog, with the dog facing away from you.
  2. Put your arms around the dog's waist.
  3. Make a fist with one hand.
  4. Place your fist (thumb side up) just below your dog's last set of ribs on the soft part of the abdomen.
  5. Wrap your other hand around that fist.
  6. Push firmly in and up in a quick and rapid manner, just behind the rib cage and toward's the dog's backbone. Apply enough force to move the dog's whole body.
  7. If the obstruction is not dislodged try again for a maximum of four or five times.
  8. If the dog is lying down, place one hand on the back for support and use the other hand to squeeze the abdomen upwards and forwards.
  9. Check the dog's mouth and remove any objects that may have been dislodges with your fingers.


Heimlich maneuver on a dog

One variation of the Heimlich maneuver for dogs is to try chest thrusts.

  1. With your dog standing, place your hands on each side of your dog's chest and thrust inward, pushing with your shoulders and elbows in the direction of the mouth. The motion would be similar to using a fireplace belows or squeezing a pillow.  
  2. After two thrusts, give the dog a moment to cough, and/or look inside his mouth to see if the object is now reachable. If not, repeat for a maximum of four times.

If you are unable to dislodge the object, you may need to perform rescue breathing and CPR, while someone takes you and your dog to a veterinarian or emergency animal clinic. Read our article: CPR for dogs (cardiopulmonary resuscitation).

If at any time your dog becomes unconscious due to the obstruction of his airway, begin rescue breathing and CPR right away.


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