I Think My Dog is Suffocating
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Here at AnimalWised we often stress the importance of preventative action for the animals in our care. Vaccination schedules, deworming programs and proper socialization are some of the key aspects of this type of care. However, there are some occasions when, despite our best efforts, something happens we can't predict. Accidents are one of the them. When a dog is involved in a near drowning accident, gets something caught in their throat or suffocates for an unknown reason, it can be incredibly scary. What would make it even more frightening is not knowing what to do if something like this should happen. If your think your dog is suffocating, then we can provide some helpful advice on what to do in an emergency situation.
Why do dogs suffocate?
If we see our dog suffocating for any reason, it is essentially because the body is not getting enough oxygen. Such a deficiency of oxygen is medically known as hypoxia, with the most common causes being drowning, inhalation of toxic substances, the presence of a foreign body in the throat, high altitude, blunt force trauma or even an underlying pathology.
Dogs are often strong swimmers, although the health and ability of an individual dog as well as their breed type are important factors. Dogs can drown by immersion, potentially caused by swimming too far from shore before growing tired or by falling into icy cold water and going into shock. An injury might prevent them from swimming or treading water properly. Sometimes, if a dog fell in a pool, they are simply unable to get out as they don't always know to go to the steps.
Dogs may become asphyxiated if they are in a building which catches fire or has a gas leak. Dogs being locked in the trunk of a car or garage might suffer this problem. When a dog receives a strong trauma to the chest or abdomen, it is possible for the injury to cause aspiration problems. If an otherwise healthy dog suddenly begins to pant or choke without an obvious reason, then the presence of a foreign body is a strong possibility.
How do I know if my dog is suffocating?
If we think our dog might be suffocating, we need to pay attention to signs of acute anxiety, evident respiratory distress and considerable panting. This may often be accompanied by an overstretching of the neck and head. If this occurs for long enough, the lack of oxygen may lead to the dog losing consciousness. Additionally, the dog may present with cyanosis. This is the discoloration of the skin or mucous membranes where they turn a bluish or purplish color. If hypoxia is caused due to carbon monoxide poisoning, then they will be reddened.
What to do if my dog is suffocating - insufflation
If a dog is in a near drowning accident, the priority is re-establishing the passage of air. As you would take a drowning victim to the emergency room, you should take the dog to your nearest veterinary medical center. There they will best be able to help the dog by initiating artificial respiration, but only if the dog is already unconscious. However, it will not always be possible to have enough time to get the dog to a vet. If you see that the dog no longer has a heartbeat, cardiac massage is recommended. The combination of resuscitation and cardiac massage is known as cardiopulmonary resuscitation or, commonly, as CPR. This can be done by one or two persons.
When the cause of suffocation is an open wound which has lead to a pneumothorax (when air collects beside the lungs), we need to try to close the skin at the wound site over and keep pressure on it until you can arrive at the veterinarian. If a dog has swallowed water, we should place their head below their body so that we can eliminate as much water as possible.
Insufflation is also known as ventilation or rescue breathing and involves passing air back into the respiratory system for resuscitation purposes. We can start mouth-to-nose resuscitation by placing the dog on its right side with the head lower than the chest and then following these steps:
- Open their mouth and pull their tongue forward as much as possible, but with great care not to cause further injury.
- Clean the nose if there are any obvious secretions.
- Observe if we can locate a foreign body such as a bone or similar object. If this is the case, we should perform the Heimlich maneuver which we explain in a section below.
- Close the mouth.
- Place your mouth over the nose of the dog and blow gently. You need to ensure you bring your mouth down to their nose so you don't obstruct the airway. We should be able to see the chest expand as you exhale. If this does not happen, you may have to blow a little harder. In dogs which weigh more than 15 kg (33 lbs), we'll need to ensure we keep our hand over the snout to hold it closed.
- The breathing pattern should be 20 - 30 breaths per minute. This means, approximately, one breath every 2 to 3 seconds.
- We need to continue until the dog recovers their breath and returns a heartbeat. If we reach the vet before this happens, we should let them continue.
Insufflation or cardiac massage?
If a dog is suffocating, we need to determine which resuscitation technique to apply. To do so, we need to observe whether or not the dog is breathing. If they are breathing, we should open their mouths and clear the tongue to open the airways. If they are not breathing, we need to check for a pulse by putting pressure on the inside of the thigh with our fingers. This is so that we can try to detect the heartbeat in the femoral artery. If a pulse is present, we can try respiratory resuscitation. If not, then we should attempt cardiac massage.
How to apply CPR in dogs
If a dog has suffocated and is not breathing, we will need to initiate cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). We do this by following these steps:
- Place the dog on a flat surface on their right side. If the dog is large we should kneel behind their back.
- Put your hands together with fingers interlocked and one on top of the other (see pic below). For large dogs, place your hands over the widest part of the chest. For smaller dogs, place one hand underneath the chest and the other on top of it so you are wrapped around.
- Compress the chest to about 25 - 35 mm (1 - 1.4") or about 1/3 of the chest cavity.
- Do this so that you can apply between 80 and 100 compressions per minute.
- Rescue breathing via mouth-to-nose resuscitation needs to be performed every 25 to 30 compressions.
- We need to continue applying CPR until the dog is able to breathe on their own and they have a stable pulse.
- Finally, there are risks to CPR of causing a rib fracture or pneumothorax. We need to ensure the animal is really in need of CPR by checking their breathing and pulse. If not, CPR on a healthy dog can cause severe injuries.
What to do if your dog is choking on something
Sometimes a dog may be suffocating or choking due to the presence of a foreign body which cannot be easily removed. If this is the case we should not try to get it out with our fingers as we run the risk of pushing it further into the throat. If your dog chokes on something such as a bone or toy which has been left on the ground, we will need to try to engage the Heimlich maneuver. To do so, we need to consider the following:
- How it is performed will depend on the size of the dog. If it is small, we need to hold it in our lap face down with their back against our chest. In any case, we need to encircle their waist from behind.
- Close one hand into a fist and hold it with the other. Our fist needs to be at the top of the V that forms the rib cage.
- We will compress the abdomen by pulling on the balled up fist upwards and inwards 4 times in a row quickly.
- We will keep their mouth open so we can know the object is expelled.
- If we continue, but the foreign body is not expelled, we will need to perform nose-to-mouth resuscitation as explained above.
- Provide a sharp blow to the back of the dog between the shoulder blades with the base of our hand (not so hard as it would cause injury). Check the mouth again.
- If the object still has not been expelled, we need to repeat the maneuver.
- Once the object has been ejected, we need to check their pulse and breathing. Otherwise, we will need to resort to CPR.
- Even if the dog appears to recover, we should take them to the vet for assessment in case any damage has been done.
If you want some more background information on dog's choking, you can take a look at our article on what to do if your dog has something stuck in their throat.
This article is purely informative. AnimalWised does not have the authority to prescribe any veterinary treatment or create a diagnosis. We invite you to take your pet to the veterinarian if they are suffering from any condition or pain.
If you want to read similar articles to I Think My Dog is Suffocating, we recommend you visit our First aid category.