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Heimlich Maneuver for Dogs: Step-by-Step Guide (Vet Answer)

Written by: Dr. Chyrle Bonk DVM (Veterinarian)

Last Updated on April 29, 2024 by Dogster Team

vet examining the stomach of a labrador retriever dog

Heimlich Maneuver for Dogs: Step-by-Step Guide (Vet Answer)


Dr. Chyrle Bonk Photo


Dr. Chyrle Bonk

DVM (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Many people are versed in basic first aid, and some may even know more intermediate methods, such as CPR or the Heimlich maneuver—for humans, anyway. But what about our pups? Knowing what steps to take when our canine companion is in trouble can go a long way toward helping to save their life, provided that the procedure is done right. Here, we cover how the Heimlich maneuver is performed in dogs, so you’re prepared should your pup ever have a choking emergency.

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How Do You Know If Your Dog Is Choking?

A dog isn’t going to grab their throat or point to their mouth when they are choking. Instead, you may notice gasping for breath, irregular breathing, coughing, pawing at their face, and overall panic or uneasiness. Choking may even result in unconsciousness.

What to Do If Your Dog Is Choking

Proceed with caution, as choking can cause a dog to panic and react in abnormal ways. Approach your pet slowly, speaking calmly to them while you do. Place your hand on their back or neck before you make your way to their head or face. If possible, get someone to help you hold your dog.

If you can do so safely, open your dog’s mouth to check if you can see what they are choking on. If something is lodged at the back of the mouth, you may be able to remove it using a spoon or your fingers, if you can do so without getting bitten. Be sure to sweep the object out of the side of their mouth, being careful not to push it farther down the throat. If this doesn’t work or you can’t see the object, the Heimlich maneuver may be appropriate.

beagle dog choking
Image Credit: HelgaBragina, Shutterstock

How to Perform the Heimlich Maneuver on Dogs

The Heimlich maneuver can help dislodge objects that are causing a dog to choke. It may be the best option if your pup is having trouble breathing and can’t wait until you get to a veterinarian. However, consider having someone else call the vet while you’re doing the Heimlich, to help you respond to any questions that may be asked.

  1. Stand over your dog, leaning down so their backbone is to your chest. For small dogs, you may lift them to your lap.
  2. Wrap your arms around their waist, joining your hands by making one a fist and cupping the fist with your other hand.
  3. Rapidly thrust your hands just under the ribs inward and upward five times.
  4. Check to see if the object is dislodged, and remove it with your fingers if it is.
  5. Repeat the thrusts and checks as needed until the object is dislodged.

This can work for small or large dogs that are standing. However, there are a few variations that you may need to make, depending on your dog’s size or whether they are lying down.

How to Perform the Heimlich Maneuver on Small Dogs

For small pups, you can try the previous method, but you may not be able to get the right motion. If that’s the case, you may try this alternative way:

  1. Place your small dog on your lap on their back.
  2. Using the palm of one hand, apply firm pressure just below the rib cage.
  3. Push inward and upward five times.
  4. Roll your dog to their side, and check to see if the object is dislodged; remove if possible.
  5. Repeat as needed.

How to Perform the Heimlich Maneuver for Dogs That Are Lying Down

For dogs that are lying down and too big to be picked up, you may need to try a slight alteration to dislodge the object.

  1. Place one hand on your dog’s mid-back.
  2. Using your other hand, apply firm pressure just below the ribcage.
  3. Push inward and upward on the abdomen.
  4. Check to see if the object is dislodged, and remove it if possible.
  5. Repeat as needed.

What to Do After Your Dog Has Stopped Choking

Hopefully, you’ll get the offending object unstuck from your dog’s throat using the Heimlich maneuver, but that doesn’t mean you’re finished just yet. Call or head to a veterinarian immediately, as there could be lasting effects from the choking episode.

If your dog still isn’t breathing following removal, you may consider giving them a few breaths or starting CPR.

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How Can You Prevent a Dog From Choking?

Most dogs like to put things into their mouths, some more than others. While you can’t completely keep them from trying to swallow things that they could choke on, you can use these tips to help cut down on the risk.

1. Choose appropriately sized kibble for your dog.

This means small breeds should receive a small kibble, while large dogs can have big chunks. Either way, they should be able to safely swallow a piece whole. If your dog prefers to inhale rather than chew their food, you may want to look into slow feeding techniques, such as specially designed bowls or mats that make it harder to grab whole mouthfuls at once.

2. Don’t give your dog any chews, toys, or treats that they could choke on.

These should all be larger than their mouth and durable enough to not be broken into smaller pieces. Supervise your pup while they are chewing or playing with these things.

3. Keep small objects off your floor.

If you have children, this can be difficult, but putting food items, toys, or other things that your dog might try to swallow away in a safe place can help prevent choking. Use a garbage can with a locking lid, or keep it behind a closed door to cut down on trash raids, and just do regular scans of your dog’s environment to make sure they aren’t tempted by a choke-able object.


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Hopefully, you will never have to deal with a choking emergency that involves your dog. If your pup ever does have this issue, though, you’ll be glad that you know how to help!

In fact, as a pet owner, you should be prepared for various emergencies. A good way to start is by taking a pet first aid course through Dogsafe Canine First Aid or The American Red Cross.

Featured Image Credit: Dragon Images, Shutterstock

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