This information is provided by
Provet for educational purposes only.
You should seek the advice of your
veterinarian if your pet is ill as only he or she can correctly advise on the
diagnosis and recommend the treatment that is most appropriate for your pet.
get something stuck at the back of their throat or in their gullet
(oesophagus) and they can choke. If the airway is blocked and they cannot
breath for any length of time they can die - though this is uncommon.
the USA airway obstruction due to food accounts for an estimated 3900 human
deaths every year - making it one of the top 10 causes of death. It is
not so common in veterinary medicine, but is does occur from time to time, and
when it does emergency treatment is needed.
When there is an obstruction at
the back of the throat - blocking the throat and the entrance to the windpipe
(the trachea) signs of choking occur including :
- A loud rasping or whistling noise when the animal attempts to breath in.
It sounds like the airway is blocked
- A loud noise or an attempt to cough when the animal tries to breath out
- Sudden onset coughing during eating may be seen
- The animal may gag or retch - attempt to eject the object by contracting
muscles in its throat - this is similar to attempts to vomit, the mouth is
held wide open but it does not involve abdominal/stomach contractions
- The animal may stand with it's head pushed forward and its neck fully
- The breathing rate (chest movements) will increase becoming very rapid
- If inadequate air can be breathed in or out the animal will start to
panic and may throw itself around in desperation
- The visible mucous membranes eg lips and gums lose their normal
pink-red color and turn pale then blue and get darker as oxygen levels in
the blood decrease
- The animal collapses
- Death occurs in less than 5 minutes
Choke is also used to describe obstruction of the gullet (oesophagus)
preventing swallowing and food reaching the stomach. This is typically seen in
farm animals when a large object eg a potato may become stuck during
swallowing, but it is also common in dogs that swallow large sharp pieces of
bone which get lodged in the oesophagus - usually low down where the
oesophagus enters the chest or where it passes near to the heart . In these
cases signs include :
- Reluctance to eat
- Regurgitation of food after it has been swallowed.
- If the food is soft the regurgitated food will be sausage-shaped.
- Some animals drool excessive saliva
- Weight loss if obstruction has been present any length of time
Treatment of choke involves removal of the obstruction, and this is best
done in a veterinary practice where a range of implements and the option for
general anesthesia and emergency surgery are available :
- In humans an emergency technique called the Heimlich manoeuvre has
been described in which a person stands behind the patient, grasps around
their abdomen and quickly and forcibly squeezes upwards on the patients
upper abdomen - this increases pressure on the diaphragm causing the
object to be ejected by rapid air movement out of the lungs. However,
although a similar technique could be attempted in large and giant breed
dogs and larger animals, this technique is potentially dangerous in
children and small animals.
- If it can be visualised and lies at the back of the throat a foreign
object causing choking can be removed by being grasped with long forceps
(or something similar) passed via the mouth. This is best done by a
skilled person such as a veterinarian or veterinary nurse, but in an
emergency it could be attempted by an owner. NEVER
put fingers inside the mouth of a conscious animal that is choking - there
is a high risk that you will be bitten!
- If a proper mouth gag is available this can be used by experienced
personnel to hold the mouth open to gain access to the foreign object
- If removal of an object in a conscious animal is not possible a general
anesthetic will be needed
- Under anesthesia many objects can be removed using a special scope (an
endoscope) with a grasping device
- Depending on the type of object and the site of the obstruction surgery
may be needed to remove the object
If a choking animal slips into unconsciousness it may be possible to remove
the foreign object, then emergency resuscitation should be attempted :
- Remove the foreign body - see above
- After removal of the object the tongue should be pulled forwards to open
the upper airway
- The chest should be compressed by pushing down in forceful jerky
movements every second for a minute, to provide external cardiac
massage and to stimulate breathing.
- If oxygen is available it should be administered by mask
- In a veterinary practice an endotracheal tube can be placed into
the trachea and various drugs can be used to help resuscitate the patient
Emergency tracheotomy. If the obstruction can
not be removed an emergency tracheotomy can be performed. This should only be
attempted by a skilled person :
- A cut is made using a sharp instrument (eg scalpel or razor blade)
in the midline of the front of the throat over the windpipe below the
"adams apple" and below the obstruction.
- A puncture is made in the midline of the windpipe between two of the
firm cartilage rings
- A tube is passed through the hole into and down the windpipe.
- If the animal is breathing ok - if not, artificial respiration can be
given by blowing down the tube every 5 seconds to inflate the lungs
The procedures described here should only be used in
an emergency and in all cases veterinary attention should be sought as soon as
Updated October 2013