What to Do if My Dog has Something Stuck in his Throat?
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Who hasn't experienced a dog sitting next to you while you are eating, with eyes fixed on your food? If something happens to fall off your plate and on to the floor, the dog immediately hoovers it up. Usually this isn't a problem as a small piece of food or some crumbs won't cause harm. But what happens if you drop a bone? Or a small toy meant for kids? If your dog swallows such items, they can start to choke and may require urgent veterinary treatment. As pet guardians, there are a number of first aid steps you can take to dislodge the object before running to the nearest veterinary clinic.
We at AnimalWised provide instructions and tips for what to do if your dog has something stuck in their throat. We'll also give you advice to prevent it happening again in the future, so we hope you find this article useful!
How to tell if a dog has something caught in its throat?
It's not always possible to keep your eyes on your furry friend at all times. While we try our best to control our dog's diet, they are well known for their ability to ingest unexpected foreign objects. A busy house offers many different possible choking hazards, but a walk in the country has its own choking risks. Objects that can cause obstruction in a dog's throat include toys, pieces of food, bones, plant matter or anything else they find difficult to swallow or digest.
You may not know the exact cause, but you will notice signs that something is wrong. If your dog has something lodged in their throat, the most common signs include:
- Gagging sounds
- Excessive drooling
- Repeated swallowing
- Vomiting or regurgitation
- Pawing at the mouth or throat
- Hacking cough
- Apathy or listlessness
- Loss of appetite
- Trouble breathing
The nature and severity of these symptoms will vary and depend on the object that is stuck in the dog's esophagus. Coughing is often among the first signs. While dogs may cough, vomit or show the other symptoms on this list for different reasons, it is always a good idea to rule out esophageal obstruction, that is something stuck in their throat.
Another important thing to keep in mind if you are trying to determine whether something is stuck in your dog's throat is to consider the breed. Some dog breeds are greedier than others or anatomically more prone to choking. Among the naturally gluttonous breeds are Labradors, Golden Retrievers and Beagles which may be more likely to eat something they shouldn't and end up choking.
There are other dog breeds which are more likely to suffer problems related to choking. These are known as brachycephalic dogs and include breeds such as Bulldogs, Pugs and some breeds of mastiff. Due to breeding for certain aesthetic traits, these animals have an elongated soft palate, narrowed nostrils and a reduced trachea. This means that they have shorter throats which often leads to difficulty breathing. This causes them to make wheezing sounds even if they are not choking, and experience airway obstruction even without swallowing foreign objects. While we may love individual dogs in this breed, there have been many calls by veterinary experts recommending that we stop encouraging these types of breeds due to the risks they pose to a dog's health.
My dog has something stuck in their throat - how can I help?
If your dog has something stuck in their throat you can try these steps to help remove the object:
- Try to remove the object by hand: immediately open their mouth to take a look at the entire cavity. See if you can remove the object by hand. Much will depend on what type of object has been swallowed. Sometimes you cannot remove the object yourself, and the dog will require veterinary attention. It is not advisable to remove objects with sharp points or edges, such as splintered bones or scissors, as you could hurt the dog. Likewise, if you feel any resistance, stop at once as you may do more damage by trying to remove the object yourself.
- Use gravity: you can also try use the help of gravity to get your dog to cough the object out by themselves. If you have a small dog, you can hold them head facing down and pat their back as you would do with a human choking. In the case of large dogs, raising their hind legs can be a great help. If your dog is too large or heavy, don't try this as you could injure yourself and the dog.
- Heimlich manoeuvre: place yourself behind the dog, either standing or kneeling. Wrap your arms around them and and support their legs with your own legs. Apply pressure behind the ribs, inwards and upwards, so that they start to cough or retch. The more they salivate the better, as this will make it easier for the object dislodge from their throat and slide out.
- Visit the vet: finally, even if you've managed to remove the object through either of these techniques, you should go to your vet to assess any internal injuries and possible treatments. Swallowing a foreign object can cause your dog serious digestive problems, even if they do not choke on it. Therefore, the final and most important step is to take your dog to the vet for a check up.
Important! The Heimlich manoeuvre can be useful if your dog has something stuck in their throat, but it can be dangerous if the coughing has a different cause. Be careful not to exert too much pressure or cause any trauma. Those with dogs who may have a higher chance of choking should consider doing a canine first aid course to be well prepared to help their pet.
Treatment for objects stuck in a dog's throat
Even if the dog doesn't seem otherwise ill, getting something stuck in their throat or swallowing a foreign object can be a veterinary emergency. If you have tried all of the above without success you need to go to the vet. The more time that passes, the harder it will be to treat. The vet may even have to resort to surgery to remove the object from the dog's esophagus.
First of all, they will try to locate the foreign body. This is done by performing an x-ray as soon as possible. Treatment will be determined depending on a number of factors the vet will consider, including the nature of the object and overall health of the dog. Here are some of the most common treatments:
- If less than 48 hours have passed since the object got stuck, and depending on its location and position, the vet might be able to remove using an endoscopy. The dog is sedated, a tube with a camera is inserted into the throat, and a pincer can remove the object. The vet may also try orally applying liquid vaseline if they think the object is more easily reachable.
- If 48 hours have already passed, the vet will assess the need for surgery to remove the foreign body. Part of the problem is that by this time there will already be adhesions in the digestive tract.
It is very important to consult the vet and not to medicate your pet with antidiarrheals, antiemetics or painkillers, because these will only hide the symptoms, not solve the problem.
Finally, it is important to emphasize the role of prevention. This is the best way to keep your dog from suffering the ordeal of something lodged in their throat. Although you cannot supervise your dog at all times, here are some ways to lessen the risk of your furry friend chocking:
- Don't leave small objects lying around which your dog might accidentally swallow, especially in places where they can reach or are left unsupervised.
- Be careful what you feed your dog. Cooked bones, for example, can be very dangerous as they shatter easily and can get stuck in the throat. Avoid large chunks in their food, so that it is easier to chew and swallow.
My dog is coughing - other possible reasons
It is important to remember that a foreign object in a dog's throat isn't the only reason they may make choking sounds or start coughing. The sound of a dog asphyxiating may not be too dissimilar to a dog coughing for an underlying health reason. Some of them may include:
- The cold or flu: while dogs cannot get our colds and vice versa, but there are many canine cold and flu viruses which can lead to coughing. Look at other symptoms such as a runny nose, sneezing or shivering.
- Distemper: another viral infection, canine distemper is unfortunately much more serious than a cold. A key early symptom is watery or pus discharge from the dog's eyes. Immediate veterinary treatment is needed and it can be fatal if not addressed quickly enough.
- Kennel cough: scientifically known as canine infectious tracheobronchitis, this is often passed on by dogs in close proximity to each other. Its symptoms include a hacking cough which mimics the sound of something stuck in the throat.
- Heart disease: when a dog has heart disease, coughing can be one of the many symptoms. Make sure you look at other symptoms of heart problems in dogs and take them to the vet for diagnosis.
- Strangulation: strangulation of asphyxiation in dogs is usually due to neglect and sometimes even abuse from an owner. If a dog's collar gets caught, it can lead to strangulation. A technique known as ‘helicoptering’ may also be used on the dog whereby they are picked up by the neck and swung around. Unfortunately, many children who do not know any better may engage in this practice thinking they are only playing.
- Heartworm: this is a parasitical infection which affects the dog's heart. Its symptoms include coughing, accelerated breathing, weight loss and even fainting. Heartworm in dogs is very dangerous and requires immediate veterinary treatment.
It is important to know whether your dog is choking due to something stuck in their throat or for another reason, so keep an eye out for other symptoms. This also means considering the circumstance in which you first see the dog coughing. Is there a child nearby who could have done something? Are there pieces of a possible foreign object lying around or traces of food? Answering these questions will help you determine whether your dog has something stuck in their throat, so that you can act appropriately.
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 What to Do if My Dog has Something Stuck in his Throat?, we recommend you visit our First aid category.
- Packer, R. M. A., et al. (2015). Impact of facial conformation on canine health: brachycephalic obstructive airway syndrome. PloS One, 10(10). e0137496.
- McEwen, B. J. (2016). Nondrowning asphyxia in veterinary forensic pathology: suffocation, strangulation, and mechanical asphyxia. Veterinary Pathology, 53(5), 1037-48.