Any time dogs, or any other pet for that matter, are chewing on objects there is the chance that either a part of or the entire object may somehow become lodged in the dog's mouth or throat. Choking is one of the most common reasons why dogs end up in emergency animal clinics and vet's offices. Choking not only might injure the lining of the mouth, the gums, the throat or the esophagus but it can also lead to fluid entering the lungs, pneumonia and other chronic respiratory conditions.
While not all causes of choking are completely preventable, there are a great many that are. Sometimes dog owners mistakenly think that if a dog tries to eat or chew on something, it must be all right for the dog to do so. In reality dogs will eat or chew on almost anything. Puppies will chew on sticks, rocks, boards, clothing, fabric, pillows and just about anything else you can name. In addition dogs and puppies often chew on objects that simply break apart such as phones, remote controls and electrical cords or small electrical devices such as Discmans, iPods and radios.
Providing a good selection of dog and puppy safe chew toys is a good idea, but even these items can occasionally become choking risks. This is often the case when the toys are old or not actually good choices in the first place. Chew toys and bones that tend to cause the greatest choking risk include:
Children's stuffed toys
Kids toys such as dolls or cars with lots of small parts
Very small toys or objects that can be swallowed by not digested
Toys with sharp edges, especially plastic or metal
Wood items that splinter
Bones that splinter (cooked bones, chicken, poultry or rabbit bones)
Very small bones that are swallowed whole or in pieces
The biggest concern on this list is most likely rawhide items. The reason they are so problematic is because the rawhide tastes good and the dogs eat it rather than just chew on the toy or bone. The soggy, gooey mass lodges in the throat or the digestive tract, leading to choking or blockages. The more that the dog drinks or the body produces saliva to try to dislodge the rawhide the more it swells further complicating the problem.
Signs of Choking
A bone that lodges in the gums, around the teeth or even in the roof of the mouth will be uncomfortable and annoying for the dog, but will not result in the same symptoms as choking. Choking occurs when the dog cannot breath due to an obstruction or constriction that is preventing the air from moving in and out of the lungs through the throat area. Blockages below the respiratory tract are considered obstructions and will not result in choking unless the swelling continues up the esophagus or fluid somehow enters the lungs.
The most common signs of choking in dogs happen relatively quickly after the airway has become blocked and they include excessive drooling from the mouth and sometimes the nostrils, gagging or attempting to vomit with nothing being expelled, difficulty breathing, anxiety, food being regurgitated immediately after attempting to swallow, staggering gait and eventually fainting and death. Some dogs may also paw or scratch at their mouth, face and throat area.
What to Do
If you notice your dog choking the first thing to do is to remove anything on his or her neck that may increase the constriction on the throat. This will include collars, harnesses or even bandanas or other items that may be around the throat and chest area.
The second step is to carefully open your dog's mouth and look inside to see if you can see any objects in the back of the mouth or throat. It is a good idea to have someone to actually restrain the dog so you can use both hands to hold the mouth open and depress the tongue to look into the throat. If you can see an object such as a bone, don't automatically grab it and try to pull it out, you can severely damage the throat and further lacerate the tissue. If the dog can breathe, get them immediately to the vet or call the vet and ask for step by step instructions to remove the bone or sharp object. As long as the dog can breathe you have time to get him or her to the vet.
If you cannot see an object don't try to stick your fingers or any other objects down the dog's throat, you are likely to further push the object if you do this. The best option if you can't see the object is to try to dislodge it. For a small breed of dog hold them securely by the body and turn their head down, hind end up. Holding the dog very securely in this position, make a downward movement with your hands, gently but firmly holding the dog. This can sometimes move the object forward to the top of the throat. For medium breeds hold the hindquarters off the ground, which will cause the head to lower below the shoulders. Place a firm but not overly forceful open palm slap right between the shoulder blades to attempt to force the object up and out.
Medium to large breeds often respond to a type of dog friendly Heimlich maneuver. Move behind the dog so your legs are close to his or her hindquarters. Bend over at the waist and place your hands, one fist cupped by the other hand, around the dog's ribcage, meeting where the two sides of the ribcage come together near the abdomen. Pull up sharply with your fist three to five times against the ribcage, this will often force the object up and out. Recheck the throat and remove the object if it is present.
Finally, even if you do manage to get the object that caused the dog to choke up and out, get your dog to a vet as soon as possible. If there are any tears or lacerations in the throat area the vet will want to have the dog on some type of antibiotic treatment to ensure there are no infections or ongoing issues due to the event.