What To Do If Your Pet Is Choking

Are you worried that your pet is choking on something? Learn what to do if your dog or cat is choking and how to keep your pet safe from choking hazards.

Courtney Elliott

Updated March 23, 2023 • Published March 23, 2023

Share to

What To Do If Your Pet Is Choking

Hearing your dog or cat hacking and coughing is scary, and it can be difficult to know if they're just trying to clear their throat or if they're choking on something.

Seemingly harmless things like your dog chewing on a bone or your cat playing with a small toy can quickly turn dangerous giving the choking hazard associated with these items. And like humans, sometimes food gets lodged in their throat and they begin showing signs of distress.

As a pet parent, it's important to understand the steps you should take if your dog or cat is choking so you can get them the help they need. We chatted with Dr. Yui Shapard, BVM&S, MRCVS and medical director at Pawp to understand how to spot the signs that your pet is choking, the most common causes of choking, and what you should do if they start choking.

Signs your dog or cat is choking

It's important to first understand what choking looks and sounds like. Signs can vary, but the most common signs your pet is choking include:

  • Relentless and ongoing gagging and hacking that may have started from a cough

  • Pawing at the mouth or throat

  • Wheezing with general respiratory distress

  • Pale or cyanotic gums

  • Purple tongue

  • Appearing panicked or frantic

  • Swelling around the neck or face

If your pet has been deprived of oxygen for a fair amount of time, they may collapse and become unconscious. 

Common causes of choking in dogs and cats

The most common cause of choking is eating a hard object that gets lodged in the trachea/air pipe. This could be large pieces of bone like rawhide, which is a very common choking hazard. Ingestion of inedible objects like children's toys can also cause choking. 

What should I do if my pet is choking?

If your pet is choking, take them to an emergency animal hospital immediately.

If the pet is in need of CPR, unfortunately, the likelihood of survival is close to zero. CPR should only be attempted on an unconscious pet by an appropriately trained person or closely and directly guided by a trained person. More damage can be done if an untrained person attempts to perform CPR, inflicting more suffering on the pet. In an emergency facility where staff are fully trained, experienced, and they have additional tools and medications to provide thorough CPR work, the chance of survival can increase up to 5-6%.

"I would not recommend anyone who is not properly trained in pet CPR perform this without appropriate guidance," explains Dr. Shapard. "CPR should also never be performed on a pet that is conscious, and by the point that CPR is needed, the chance that the pet will recover is close to zero."

Learning the Heimlich maneuver can be helpful, and there are also online pet CPR certifications for pet parents and professionals who are interested in learning.

Ultimately, preventing choking is always better than treating it, but there will always be unexpected situations that arise. Make sure your home is pet proof, and keep small toys and objects out of reach of your furry friends. It's also important to choose safer dog bones that don't splinter or break off into small pieces and pose a choking hazard. Teaching your dog the "drop it" and "leave it" command can also be helpful in getting them to move away from potential choking hazards.

If you have questions about your pet's health or are worried they may be choking, the experts at Pawp are here to help 24/7.

Talk to a vet now — it's free!

Text, call, or video chat with a vet within minutes.

Talk To A Vet Now