What To Do When Your Dog Is Choking – 4 Things That Could Save Your Dog’s Life

When your dog starts choking, things get terrifying really, really quickly. And knowing what to do, vs not knowing is always something I’d advise on.

I’ve taken a couple of first aid classes, and I’ve done a good amount of reading to ensure that should I ever get into that predicament with my dogs (or my clients dogs)? I know what to do and can confidently react.

And, it happened.

Shelby the redbone coonhound beside the fire
Shelby the redbone coonhound beside the fire – it was this very “special” girl that decided to choke on a piece of dried liver the size of a pea – she’s a 75lbs dog by the way, so please don’t underestimate what they can/can’t choke on! I was astonished.

The Scariest Situation I’ve Ever Experienced

I was sat after my dinner, and Shelby licked up the tiniest piece of liver she’d dropped on the floor – it was genuinely about the size of a pea – and it started.

She walked over to us a little more and I was watching to see if she’d dislodge it. But she didn’t.

Before I even knew what to do in my mind, I was up and doing it. Having seen what she’d choked on, I knew that I couldn’t dislodge it with a hand in the mouth, and instead, a quick strike behind the shoulders and Shelby’s choking ceased.

The little piece of liver hit the floor.

And Shelby looked at me with the most grateful (if not slightly pathetic face) I’ve ever seen.

All done decisively, with knowledge and skill whilst my husband sat on the sofa, just watching it all go down (because he hadn’t assessed and acted quicker than I could!)

So, here’s 4 ways to help your dog when they’re choking. I’ve separated two at the bottom which are more appropriate for medium/large dogs, but they’re good to know.

4 Ways To Save Your Choking Dog

Open dogs mouth and sweep for foreign objects to save your dog from choking

1 – Sweep The Mouth

If you have to think of Karate Kid – do it, because this is often the quickest and easiest way to help your dog (though please be careful not to get bitten).

sweep side to side and see if there is anything lodged, if there is, grab it and remove as gently as possible.

Sometimes you can massage the object out from underneath too.

2 – Lift the hind legs

Both rear legs moved into the air like a wheel barrow can help your dog to dislodge the foreign object.

This one works by getting gravity to work with the coughing your dog is already doing to force the object out of their mouth.

lift your dogs rear legs to help stop them choking
heimlich for dogs to save a dog from choking compress the stomach

3 – The Heimlich for dogs

This one is quite sensitive because you can do damage here with smaller breeds so please be careful.

Place your arms around her stomach, with one hand over a fist and push it firmly up, into the area just behind the ribs. This ‘mimics’ the contracts your dog is already making but with a bit more force.

(For a small dog, less force, you can brace one hand on their back and one on their stomach)

4 – Strike Between The Shoulders

This one again is for larger dogs and a sensitive thing to do, so make sure to apply reasonable pressure and if you’re not sure, build up to where you’re confident.

With the butt of your hand a careful strike just behind the shoulder blades with their head down can help shake the foreign object free.

dog choking strike between the shoulders

I find this video to help my clients.

If this doesn’t work – get to the vet fast!

This is really not negotiable and goes without saying. If it’s not working, you load up and you go, as quick as possible. Call them ahead of your visit and even if it’s not your normal vet? You go to the closest vet.

My Recommendation…

I recommend any dog owner, dog carer or similar to take a first aid course.

It will make you more confident and capable to avoid these situations. I know it helped me with Shelby. And if a couple of hours and a little knowledge that may be superfluous but could save your dog’s life… I think this would be a perfect

Remember! The Best Cure Is Prevention!

Whilst these things happen sometimes, and sometimes it cannot be helped, sometimes it can.

Remove any small choking risks, particularly if you know your dog is inclined to picking things up, things like children’s toys, bone fragments etc – all represent choking risks. Anything that is smaller than your dogs jaws? Is a choking risk.

Minimise the risk, and hopefully you’ll save yourself from ever having to do this.

If you need help in setting up your home to be safe for your dog, why not get in touch! Let’s see if I can help.

Author, Ali Smith

Ali Smith is the Positive Puppy Expert, dog trainer and is the founder of Rebarkable. She is passionate about helping puppy parents get things right, right from the start. To help create a puppy capable of being a confident and adaptable family member and keep puppies out of shelters.

Ali has won multiple awards for her dog training, and has had her blog (this blog!) rated as 2021 & 2022 worlds’ best pet blog!