The Doggie & Kitty Heimlich-like Maneuver  | PetFirst
The Doggie & Kitty Heimlich-like Maneuver 
Pet Care & Health

The Doggie & Kitty Heimlich-like Maneuver 

by PetFirst Pet Insurance
1 year ago

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 catchrun 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.    

Look for:

  • Loud noise or cough when exhaling 
  • Raspy noise during inhalation 
  • Gagging or retching as if trying to vomit 
  • Pawing at mouth 
  • Drooling 
  • Outward stretching of the neck (might indicate difficulty breathing) 
  • Staggering 
  • Pale/blue gums 
  • Collapse 
  • Loss of appetite (dog not eating due to a minor obstruction where esophagus, not airway, is blocked)

What to do if a Dog or Cat is Choking The Doggie & Kitty Heimlich-like Maneuver 

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.      

  1. Allow pets a moment to coughMost pets lower their heads attempting to force the object out with a cough, but if unable to do so…  
  1. Look inside the mouth if you can do without getting bitten. Never reach in without looking as you could push the object farther back or tear laryngeal tissue by pulling the object. If you are able to carefully retrieve the object, great! Do an inspection of the mouth however, to make sure the object did not puncture or cut which could require a trip to the vet. If you are unable to remove the obstruction… 
  1. Attempt the doggie or kitty Heimlich-like maneuver  

Medium to large dogs The Doggie & Kitty Heimlich-like Maneuver 

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.    

Small dogs and cats The Doggie & Kitty Heimlich-like Maneuver 

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 handkeeping the pet on the floor or a secure tabletop, and push your fingertips up towards that hand. 

Always have a Plan B… 

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.   

Stay Aware of Your Pets Safety

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!  

Here at PetFirst, we know accidents and illnesses happen to all pets. PetFirst is here for every dog and cat. From common colds to more significant health problems, pet insurance can help cover unexpected vet visits.

Pet insurance provides peace of mind that if your pet gets sick or injured, you don’t have to worry about the financial aspect of his treatment.  You can just focus on your pet’s care.

Already have a PetFist Insurance Policy? If you have any specific questions or concerns and want to start a live video call with a veterinarian to discuss them, simply download the new airVet app. All calls on airVet are already covered as part of PetFirst policies.


Denise Fleck is the Pet Safety Crusader™ having personally taught 20,000 humans to rescue Rover or help Fluffy feel better.  Her mission is to help YOU make a difference in the life of an animal through Pet First-Aid, Senior Pet Care and Disaster Preparedness classes and books.  Learn more at 



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