How to Do the Heimlich on a Dog

by | May 25, 2023 | General Information

Ask a vet what things they have had to surgically remove from a dog’s digestive system, and you’ll probably get a surprisingly bizarre list. 

Vets have fished out rocks, towels, butter knives, toys, bras, money, underwear, and much, much more! How these things get past the throat to cause trouble further down the line is some miracle because any of these can get caught there and cause choking.

If something gets lodged in your dog’s throat, and they can’t breathe, you must act quickly to help them. You have to force panic and fear aside.

The best thing you can do is be prepared with knowledge and items that can save your dog’s life. You only have minutes to stop the choking. 

The Heimlich maneuver is a fast, effective way to accomplish this. If you learn this technique, gather emergency resources, and educate yourself on prevention, you will be well-prepared to handle choking emergencies. 

What are the Signs of a Choking Dog?

Foreign Objects

In addition to the items listed at the top of this article, choking can be caused by sticks, hair ties, bones, corn cobs, balls, pantyhose, and socks. 

Add to this list toys that are too small for your dog’s size, dog toys or rawhide that can be chewed into smaller bits, plastic wrap, and anything they might find after upturning the garbage can.

Dogs with obsessive-compulsive or anxiety disorders run a potential choking risk. Consider anything within reach of your dog that fits in their mouth a potential choking hazard.

Your Dog is a More Aggressive Chewer

Some dogs eat so quickly that it seems like they inhale their food. That rapid eating may cause choking. And if a small dog eats kibble intended for larger dogs, the bigger pieces may do the same.

Nearest emergency vet

Choking Due to Medical Conditions

Ingesting any foods your dog is allergic to may cause an anaphylactic response that swells the throat. Choking can also be brought on by infections, laryngeal paralysis, tracheal collapse, or kennel cough.

Signs a Dog is Choking

Choking Looks Different From Humans

A choking dog may not show the same signs as a human. Gasping, coughing, or gagging may not be as prominent for a dog. They are more likely to paw at their faces and mouths and rub their heads on the ground. They may be in a panic, retching, drooling, and pacing.

Check the Gums

Normal gums are a healthy pink. If you press them, they may go white for a second or so, then return to the normal pink. If it’s a darker red, the dog may be choking.

How to Perform the Heimlich Maneuver for Dogs

If the worst comes to pass, and you need to save your dog from choking, you won’t have time to think it over. So do your thinking and learning now.

Before the Heimlich Maneuver

You can dislodge the object with a few simple steps:

  • Carefully pry open the jaws, and look inside with a flashlight. 
  • Sweep the dog’s mouth with a finger, and if possible, pull out any objects you can reach and move.
  • Try tweezers or small tongs for things that are stuck, but be careful not to push them further into the throat. 
  • Larger objects may be loosened if you press your thumbs underneath both sides of the dog’s jaw near the base of the throat and press upwards. 
  • Check the roof of the mouth for sticks or bones lodged there. 
  • If none of these work, turn to the Heimlich maneuver. 

The Heimlich Maneuver 

The Heimlich maneuver is performed by finding the spot on the abdomen directly below the rib cage. Grasp your fist with the other hand, and pull in and up with a bit of force. That should dislodge the obstruction and stop the choking.

For a small dog, it is possible to loosen the object by holding them up by the thighs, gently swinging them from side to side, and applying pressure to the abdomen.

To perform the Heimlich, hold the dog with their back against you. Then, press your fist to the abdomen below the rib cage and carefully thrust inward and upward. Or lay the dog on their back and use the heel of your hand. 

Lift a large dog to their hind legs and press their back to you. Then, press your fist to the abdomen below the rib cage — as with a small dog — and carefully thrust inward and upward. Or lay the dog on their side and perform the same thrusting motion. 

Watch a Demonstration

There are plenty of videos demonstrating the Heimlich maneuver. Ensure you’re watching one performed by a veterinarian or other expert — learning the right way is essential. Here’s a video by a veterinarian that you can begin with. 

Consider Your Safety 

Remember that dogs in distress may panic and bite, even their pet parent. Therefore, approach your dog quickly but carefully. If necessary, restrain them. In this case, you cannot muzzle them but have that in mind for other emergencies. 

Inspecting a dog's belly

After the Heimlich Maneuver


Once the obstruction is removed and they are no longer choking, check to see if the dog has resumed breathing. Touch the chest to check for the rise and fall. A tissue held in front of a breathing dog’s nose should move. 

Check the pulse where a flexed elbow meets the chest or the inside of a back leg about halfway down the thigh. 

To restore breathing, tilt the dog’s head back while they’re lying on the side. Then, with your mouth over the nose, blow to make the chest rise, then start chest compressions. 

Go to the Vet Immediately

When the immediate crisis has passed, take your dog in for an emergency vet visit. There may be damage or other conditions you may not be aware of, such as a broken rib or another object the dog swallowed. 

How to Prevent Future Choking

Always remember that dogs will eat almost anything, and they explore things with their mouths. Go through your house and move anything your dog can reach and get into their mouth. 

Avoid such items outdoors as much as possible. Teach your dog the “Leave It!” or “Drop It!” command if they pick up something risky.

First Aid Kit

Keep a first aid kit for dogs in the house and car. You can purchase one pre-made, or you can put one together yourself. According to the American Kennel Club, your kit should include:

  • Adhesive tape
  • Antibiotic spray or ointment
  • Cotton balls
  • Digital thermometer
  • Flashlight
  • Gauze
  • Hydrogen peroxide (antiseptic)
  • Leash and collar
  • Magnifying glass
  • Medicine pill box
  • Milk of magnesia to absorb or counteract poisons (consult with a vet for dosage)
  • Non-stick bandages
  • Scissors
  • Soft muzzle
  • Syringes and eyedroppers
  • Towels
  • Travel bowls
  • Tweezers

Red Cross Pet Emergency App

The American Red Cross offers a free first aid app for pets. Here you’ll find potentially life-saving information and routine pet care advice. It’s available to download in both the Apple and Google Play Store. 

Other Helpful Resources 

Look for Heimlich maneuver charts, such as this, showing the technique used on dogs, and ask your vet, breeder, or professional trainer to recommend books and guides.  

Happy dog

Eager to Learn First Aid Techniques? K9 Basics Can Help!

We understand that a dog’s illness or injury can be frightening for pet parents. But if you know what to do in an emergency, you can overcome that fear and even save your dog’s life. At K9 Basics, our professional trainers can teach you all about first aid for dogs — what you need to do and what you should have on hand. 

Contact us for an appointment. We’re here to help you give your dog a long, healthy life with you. Give us a call at (866) 592-2742 or, if you’re from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, or New York, visit us at 131 Kenilworth Road, Marlton, New Jersey 08053, to learn more about our dog training services. Also, browse our blog and social media for various topics about dogs and their lives with us!