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If an object lodges in front of your dog or cat’s trachea (aka windpipe), rather than passing down his esophagus (food tube), it may prevent air from reaching your pet’s lungs and result in him going unconscious!
Animals love to pounce and play catch, run with sticks, and chew on strings, toys, bones and other items that can slip down their throat. It, therefore, is a must that all pet parents know how to help a choking pet as most are likely to experience this type of distress at some point in their life.
Get down on all fours to keep your pets safe by making sure dangers are out of paws and claws reach! Anything accessible is fair game (i.e. paper clips, thumbtacks, rubber bands, buttons and staples; coins, food, medication), and can become a choking hazard. Also, teach the command, “Leave it!” to prevent a problem in the first place.
Dr. Henry Heimlich wrote an article in Emergency Medicine in June 1974 describing his technique, but the way you may not know is that he began experimenting on beagles with large chunks of meat. After trying several maneuvers unsuccessfully, he found that by pressing upward on the dog’s diaphragm, the meat shot out of the animal’s mouth. He learned this was due to the flow of air, not pressure, that pushed the object out.
Do not pick up a choking animal and hold him in front of you like in the human technique! This allows the object to slide farther down the throat. Instead, stand or kneel behind the dog, depending on his height vs yours, and place your arms around his waist keeping his head down. Give a “bear hug” as you position your fist in the soft part of his belly behind the last rib and cover your fist with your opposite hand. You should feel a triangular area on his abdomen, the rib cage, and soft space in between. Be sure to make contact with your chest or abdomen against the dog’s back. Then pull your fist up and towards your body 5 times, keeping your choking dog ‘four-on-the-floor’ with head downwards if possible.
This same Heimlich maneuver is also effective on small dogs and cats. Replace your fist, however, with the flat tips of several fingers (to accommodate for the pet’s smaller body size) in the soft part of the belly. Instead of a bear hug, brace the smaller animal’s back with your opposite hand, keeping the pet on the floor or a secure tabletop, and push your fingertips up towards that hand.
The Heimlich technique is often successful in alleviating an obstruction, still…it’s always good to have a back-up plan. If after several attempts, the Heimlich isn’t helping, squeeze the air out of your choking pet’s lungs, creating a force that will propel the object outward. To accomplish this, you must squeeze your animal’s rib cage to compress the lungs. Dogs and cats’ ribs are more flexible than ours, but of course, a fracture is always a possibility.
Still, if you don’t remove the blockage, the pet will stop breathing! Place the heel of both hands (for large pets) or several fingers (for smaller ones) on each side of the animal’s chest and thrust inward, pushing with your elbows in the direction you want the object to go – out the mouth. After 5 thrusts, give the animal a moment to cough and/or look in his mouth to see if the object is now reachable. If not, repeat.
With either technique, the piece of kibble may not go sailing across the kitchen floor, so you may need to once again carefully look into the dog or cat’s mouth to retrieve it.
Dogs and cats are like furry toddlers. They are dependent on us their entire lives! Pet parents must remain diligent in keeping a safe environment, choosing toys and food wisely, and constantly supervising to keep four-legged family members out of harm’s way. Life does happen, so for those moments, take a pet first aid class where you can properly learn how to help a choking pet before he needs you!
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