Any dog of any age or size can choke on almost anything. It can be a pet parent’s worst nightmare. An object can get stuck in a dog’s throat, block an airway, and render the dog unconscious.
And it can happen quickly and unexpectedly. Just ask Ryan Shaw, a certified professional dog trainer at What A Great Dog training center in Frisco, Texas. She was conducting an agility class when one of her students was holding her small terrier named Calli in one hand while encouraging Calli to nibble on the end of a hotdog held in her other hand.
“Suddenly, Calli ate the whole hot dog, started gagging and two seconds later, she was not breathing,” recalls Ryan. “I learned how to do the Heimlich maneuver in a pet first aid class. I grabbed the dog, cradled her in my arm and performed abdominal thrusts. I then turned her upside down, hit her sharply on her back about four times and the hot dog popped out and landed on the floor. The dog recovered very quickly and resumed normal breathing, but it all happened so quickly.”
Tragically, more than 200,000 choking incidents among dogs and cats occur each year in the United States with veterinary care to treat these pets topping $500,000 annually, according to veterinary experts.
“A dog in respiratory distress will be a scared dog,” says Dr. Judy Morgan, who practiced veterinary medicine for 36 years and now runs Dr. Judy Morgan’s Naturally Healthy Pets to educate and empower pet parents to bring out the healthy best in their pets. “I saw many choking cases during my career and some of these cases did not have good outcomes, which is very sad as this is something that is preventable.”
Sharing her need to prevent choking in pets is Johnna Devereaux, a clinical pet nutritionist and chief nutrition officer at Bow Wow Labs. This company creates the Bow Wow Buddy, a line of Safe Fit Bully Sticks life-protecting safety devices. This device securely holds a chew in place to allow a dog to chew without choking on the last bit.
“No matter the size of the chew or treat, always supervise your dog when they are consuming something,” says Johnna. “Dogs don’t have the tactile ability to hold small pieces in their paws, so they take them whole into their mouths. This can be a recipe for disaster.”
Dr. Morgan and Johnna are teaming up to launch the first National Pet Choking Prevention Day on June 22. Sponsored by Bow Wow Labs, the mission is to educate pet parents and pet professionals on solutions that can help eliminate pet choking incidents on long-term chews and other objects. Learn more at https://nationalpetchokingpreventionday.com.
“Through education and national awareness, we hope to bring that staggering number of pet choking incidents down to zero because the best and worst part of choking is that it is preventable,” says Johnna.
Dr. Morgan urges pet parents to know their dogs’ eating and playing styles.
“It is important to understand how each individual dog handles treats, food and long-lasting chews,” she says. “Some will try to gulp them while others will chew off small bits at a time. Supervision is critical.”
Recognize that dogs love to chew, adds Johnna.
“The natural act of chewing supports so many different bodily systems,” says Johnna. “Benefits include supporting oral health by massaging the gums, engaging the jaw muscles and providing friction against teeth to act like a natural brush to help boost oral care. The act of chewing releases serotonin, which supports a healthy and calm state of mind.”
Dr. Morgan and Johnna recommend pet parents enroll in pet first aid classes offered in person and online that address ways to prevent and to provide on-the-scene first aid for dogs choking.
“Every pet parent should watch a video on performing the Heimlich maneuver or take a course in pet first aid,” says Dr. Judy. “Having knowledge prior to an incident will save valuable time and potentially, save the life of a dog.”
Johnna and Dr. Morgan also recommend these preventive tips to reduce the risk of your dog choking on an object:
- No toy should be able to fit inside a pet’s mouth as it can easily cause choking and block the airway.
- Choose tennis balls that are wider than the wide of a dog’s jaw so it won’t get stuck inside the mouth during a game of fetch.
- Routinely do a pet safety check in each room of your house to make sure that small objects, such as a plastic container of dental floss or a toddler’s small doll is not within reach of a curious dog.
- Carefully scrutinize when selecting chews and treats. Safer examples include dehydrated meats, pizzle sticks and soft chews, says Dr. Morgan.