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How To Do The Heimlich On A Dog – Stop Your Dog From Choking Fast

Is your dog an overly aggressive eater? Your dog’s chances of choking are ten times more likely if they are not putting in enough time, energy, and effort towards chewing their food. Did you know that? If you own a dog or a “tribe of paw walking canines”, then learning how to do the Heimlich Maneuver on a dog is absolutely necessary.

This is not optional.

This life-saving trick to quickly help your dog continue breathing and dislodge the object from their throat and learning the skill will pay itself off a hundred times over if you ever find yourself in a situation where your dog may be having trouble trying to breathe while swallowing food.

The Heimlich Maneuver

The Heimlich Maneuver is an abdominal thrust technique that was invented by Dr. Henry Heimlich in 1974 that is used to treat an obstruction or blockage in the airway. 

This obstruction is most commonly caused by food, but accidents do happen, and other objects may block the airway as well.

Although the Heimlich maneuver was intended to be used on humans, it is found that the life-saving technique can also be used on dogs as well.

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We all know a dog or two that swallows before chewing their food until it reaches an easily ingestible size or texture. Unfortunately, because of this bad habit that a large majority of dogs seem to possess, it is not uncommon for dogs to choke on their food.

Did you know that on average, about 7 ½ % of dogs die due to choking on their own food each year and at least 50% of dogs will experience some sort of blockage in their throat due to poor chewing habits? 

Well, its true.

If you suspect that your dog is choking on their food or an object, then here are 4 steps to help a choking dog and performing the Heimlich maneuver on a dog.

Step 1 – Remain Calm

Panicking in a situation like this will only cause more harm than good. Your dog may be frantic, scared, and fumbling in an attempt to dislodge the object in its throat. 

It is your job to control the situation, limit your dog’s mobility, and assess the situation at hand.

Moving uses up oxygen very fast. A dog that panics will collapse minutes before a dog that you are able to restrict. If your dog knows the “stay” or “don’t move” command, then tell it to them. 

It will be easier for you to clear your head and think logically and strategically if your dog is not bouncing off the walls or running for air.

If you can, call the nearest person to you and your dog at the moment. It can be extremely hard to hold down some very large dog breeds and find out the root of the problem if a dog refuses to sit still. Ask your partner to hold the dog down and keep them from moving as much as humanely possible, without injuring them and intensifying the panic.

Remember to speak calmly. Your dog will know your voice and know your tones. 

A calm, passive voice is recommended as this will help to ensure your dog that everything is going to be okay. A scared, shaky, or high-pitched voice will likely do the opposite.

Step 2 – Assess the Situation

If you suspect your dog may be having trouble breathing, then try to calmly assess the situation by opening their mouths to check and see if the blockage is visible to you or your partner.

Because the dog is choking, their mouth may already be open as they are attempting to dislodge the object on their own.

You can open your dog’s mouth by using your index finger and thumb to wrap it around their muzzle and wedge your fingers between their upper and lower teeth to separate. This may add onto the instability of your dog, but this step is absolutely necessary.

Please exercise care by making an attempt to not get bitten.

Watch the video below to see how to open your dog’s mouth. This is a good skill for all dog owners to know.

You can use a flashlight if the lighting is bad and hard to see. Using the flashlight feature on your phone is a quick way to shed some light on the task at hand.

Knowing what your dog is choking on can increase the success rate dramatically. For example, if your dog is choking on a toy with a grip or handle, it may be possible for you to easily retrieve it by hand without performing the Heimlich Maneuver on them. 

Whereas, if they seem to be choking on an object that is less ergonomically designed for grabbing then performing the Heimlich maneuver on your dog may be required.

Step 3 – Clear Their Mouths (Oral Sweep)

If you are convinced that there is indeed some sort of blockage in your dog’s airway, then what you would first want to do in this stage in the process is to clear their mouths. Clearing the dog’s mouth will easily remove any excess food they have not yet swallowed and make it easier to perform the actual Heimlich maneuver on your dog.

Take two fingers, place it into your dogs’ mouth and perform an oral sweep. The oral sweep consists of just trying to scoop as much food or obstruction out of their mouth as possible so that it does not cause further blockage. 

You want to reach as far back into your dog’s mouth as possible when doing this because this can also help to save them if you are able to simply scoop the blockage out of their throat with your hand.

Be sure to get the “hidden spots” where food may be trapped such as inside of their cheeks as well as underneath their tongue.

Be careful, try not to get bitten doing this as your dog may be in a state of panic.

If you scoop all the food or obstruction out of your dog’s mouth and they are still in a state of oxygen deprivation, then this indicates that it is time to begin using the Heimlich maneuver on your dog.

Step 4 – Performing The Heimlich Maneuver

If you have a larger breed dog, then this step will require another helping hand to avoid injuring yourself. Position yourself behind your dog and lift them up. The dog’s head should be pointed towards the sky and its feet towards the ground. 

It should appear that you are putting your dog in the bear hug position.

Next, you place your closed fist on the center of your dog’s abdomen while they are still suspended in the air.

hand placement for performing Heimlich maneuver on a dog

It is important that you verify that your arm and fist are in fact around the dog’s abdomen and not their chest. Improper hand placement can cause injury to your dog.

Finally, you need to thrust inward then upward towards your body with your closed fist. Applying a great deal of pressure may not be necessary, depending on the severity of the blockage. Increase the intensity of the thrusts until your dog is relieved.

This inward, upward thrusting motion will eventually summon the object that is causing the blockage in your dog’s throat.

Repeat this thrusting motion until your dog is able to breathe again.

If you have a dog that is pregnant then in order to successfully perform the Heimlich maneuver on your dog without causing harm to the dog’s unborn pups you will want to instead place your fist higher on their abdomen. Your fist should be located on the center of the dog’s abdomen unless they’re pregnant.

How To Do the Heimlich on a Small Dog

Performing the Heimlich maneuver on a small dog is done by lifting them up from behind to a position where their head is pointed towards the sky and their feet pointed towards the ground. While your dog is wrapped in your arms you will want to first make a fist with your hand and place it on the lower half of your dog’s stomach. Then making inward thrusts into your dog’s abdomen will force the object out of your dog’s throat and allow them to breathe again.

How To Do the Heimlich on a Large Dog

The best way to do the Heimlich maneuver on a large dog is to first lay your dog on its side. Performing this on a standing dog will make gravity work against you in this situation. While using the side of your palm firmly massage your dogs throat starting from their collar and moving towards the mouth.

Repeat this action until the object causing a blockage in your dog’s throat is removed.

Can Dogs Choke?

Short answer, yes. Dogs can choke. In fact, dogs choke up to 3x more than people. Dogs do not know what the consequences are of not chewing their foods slowly and thoroughly. Breaking up their food into smaller pieces & monitoring them while they eat are three tips you can use to help your dog not choke.

How do you know when your dog is choking?

You can tell your dog is choking by looking at their face. Your dog’s face will look like they are continuously trying to yawn or cough, but they are unable to do so. They will have their mouth’s all the way open; their eyes will be squinted, and they will be mute and unable to produce any sounds.

The face will be similar to the one on the dog’s face below.

Methods To Help Save A Choking Dog

Throat Rub Method

Throat rub method on choking dog

This technique is called the throat rub method. This can be used on any sized dog. When there is an obstruction in the dog’s throat then this method can be easily performed without much assistance needed.

The goal here is to coerce the obstruction outwards and towards your dog’s mouth.

The first step here is to lay your dog on its side. Gravity will only work against you if your dog is standing up because the object in the dog’s throat will continue to move further down. Laying them on their side will also counteract the effects of peristalsis.

Peristalsis is simply the process where the muscles in the throat contract and expand to move food further down the throat and into the stomach area.

You then take 2 or 3 fingers, or take the entire side of your hand, starting from the bottom towards the chest area, apply a reasonable amount of pressure to your dog’s throat and slide your hands forward until it reaches the end of their throat. 

You will then soon feel the object that is causing the blockage.

Continue to slide the side of your hand forward against the dog’s throat in order to slide the object outward. This will also give you an indication of how much pressure you will need to apply. 

Remember not to slide forward and backward as this will not help your dog remove the object effectively. 

Always slide your hand in one direction, which is starting at the upper chest area moving it firmly towards the dog’s mouth.

This will of course require you to perform the technique in a very repetitious manner until you are able to get your dog to breathe again.

Back Pat Method

This method works best for a dog that is either coughing and having a bit of a hard time trying to swallow but a continuous airflow in and out is still apparent.

The pats should focus on the area behind the lower portion of your dog’s neck and towards the upper part of their back.

It will help to easily dislodge any food that is giving them a hard time to swallow on their own.

Also, remember that coughing does not indicate choking. If your dog is simply coughing, then that means that they are able to breathe and that they’re just having a hard time doing so.

If your dog is coughing, please give it some time before you begin to pat their upper back area because these pats can also work against you and cause the coughs to increase in severity.

Also, be sure that it is food causing your dog to violently cough or choke. Dogs cough for a variety of different reasons just like humans do. The reasons can range from your dog having a sore throat, your dog may be reacting to allergies or occasionally just cough in order to clear their throats like humans as well.

Below is a video of the back pat method being performed on a Jack Russel Terrier in a real life scenario.

The back pat method is proven to be a very effective technique to help clear the throat of a choking dog.

Hind Leg Lifts

how to do the Heimlich on dogs

Performing the hind leg lifts on a choking dog is also another very viable option that one can use to dislodge an object from a choking dog’s throat. By using this technique, you allow gravity to take full control of the situation.

You need to place your hands on the inside of your dog’s hind legs and then lift them up until their hips are well above their heads. Depending on the size of the dog, veterinarians recommend that you even flip your dog completely upside down to remove the object. 

Having the dog’s hips above their head will allow gravity to help move the object forward, causing the blockage to move outwards, towards the exit/entrance of the dog’s mouth.

The higher you raise your dog’s legs the better for them because the harder gravity will work to assist in moving the object causing the obstruction.

This position works best for small to medium-sized dogs. It will not be a good idea to attempt to lift a 100+ lb. dog. 

It is important that you not strain yourself when performing this action. It is better to have at least one of you guys in a position where you can help the other.

How to Prevent Dog From Choking On Food

Dog’s often have a problem with eating their food extremely fast and aggressively before swallowing. This is a very bad habit. One trick you can do to avoid your dog from choking is to add water to your dog’s dry food. The water will soften your dog’s food and make it easier for them to swallow.

Dogs often do choke on dog treats as well. Consider breaking up your dog’s treats into tinier pieces so that it does not give them trouble trying to consume. 

Training your dog using treats is also an important part of their learning, growth, and development.


Remember that remaining calm in a situation where your dog is choking will increase the chances of success. If you panic, you will make bad decisions and you will not be able to think strategically to save your dog’s life.

Learning how to perform the Heimlich maneuver on a dog will surely benefit both you and your dog. This is an essential skill to possess for all dog owners.

I hope that this article has been helpful.

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