The Important Thing Every Dog Owner Should Know

I know the title seems click-baity, but I absolutely promise that this post is really important. The reason it’s so important is because if I didn’t already know how to do this, Rigby probably would have died last week.

** If your dog is currently choking, please skip this story and watch this video immediately. **

The Important Thing Every Dog Owner Should Know: How to Help a Choking Dog // hellorigby seattle lifestyle blog

I’ll set the scene a little bit, because if it happened to me, it could happen to you. My mom comes over on Fridays to take Rigby out, and I was there this particular Friday because as I mentioned last week, I had a cold. My mom has a habit of feeding Rigby all sorts of semi-naughty goodies, and one of his favorites is apples and peanut butter. My mom cuts up the apples into bite size pieces, and he gets a little dollop of peanut butter. (Okay, sometimes it’s more than a dollop, but whatever. Grandma-spoils-my-dog problems.)

I was reheating some leftover soup while he was in the kitchen eating, and all of a sudden he ran away from his food dish. What’s weird was that there was still food in the dish. If you don’t remember, Rigby is a food monster and eats everything (and then he’ll go back wondering where more is!)

Not this time. Instead, he left food in his bowl. MAJOR WARNING SIGN, right? I hadn’t noticed this had happened, but luckily my mom alerted me, and I went after him to figure out what was wrong. I found him on the floor of our bedroom, laying down and looking almost guilty? The dude has never been in trouble so fear may have been┬áthe most accurate term. Of course, I was alarmed, so I started trying to get his attention to see if something was wrong with him. He looked lethargic, his tail was down, and he just was acting super strange. His abdomen was also moving, almost as if he were hiccupping, but without much force to it.

He ran back to our living room and stood by our sliding glass doors, almost looking like he was wanting to throw up. I tried to look in his mouth, but saw nothing. I did notice a wheezing sound, like what you might expect to hear from someone who’s having an asthma attack. And that’s when I realized it: He’s trying to get oxygen because HE’S CHOKING.

Immediately I yell, “He’s choking!” wheelbarrow him, attempting to use the force of gravity to dislodge the food in his windpipe. Nothing happens. So I do it again. Nothing.

Now this is the important part: How to Help a Choking Dog

What I did next is the thing you need to know to save your dog’s life: The Canine Heimlich Maneuver. The Heimlich is a pretty serious thing because if you’re not careful, you can cause internal injuries, especially if your dog is a medium size like mine. I was very cautious, as Rigby was still getting oxygen, just at a very small rate because of the apple that was lodged in his throat. What I did (and this may not have been 100% perfect, because hi, panicking human over here) was I held him in the wheelbarrow position and used my fist to thrust gently upwards, in the soft spot right below the ribcage. The keyword here is gentle. I did this about three times, increasing the force with each “blow,” before he finally coughed up the apple (and a bunch of other mucus that had collected, yuck!). I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to have such a mess all over the floor. ;)

The scary thing is, this happened around 5 pm on a Friday, during rush hour traffic, when the vet’s office is at least 10-minute drive, and an e-vet is even farther. Would he have survived that long? I’m not sure. But I’m so thankful I had learned these techniques when he was a puppy after someone from the Shiba Inu Forum had a similar scary experience and shared a very helpful video:

Note: I’ve set the video to start right where she begins her demonstration for a pet who is currently choking.

So that’s my story. Please please please learn the techniques to save a choking pet’s life. I’m going to share additional links below that helped me understand how to help a choking pet:

I hope this never happens to you or your pet because it’s damn scary. It’s happened to us, and it could happen to you. Have you ever had a scary incident with your pet? Any other life-saving techniques I should know?

42 thoughts on “The Important Thing Every Dog Owner Should Know

  1. Ashley

    Oh my goodness! That sounds like the most terrifying experience ever! We used to give our dog these rawhides and he would semi choke on them. It wasn’t ever that serious, but it was serious enough that we stopped giving them to him. I’m so glad that Rigby is ok, and makes me realize that I need to learn what to do if Dart is ever choking!

    1. Jenn Post author

      It was one of those things that was only scary once I looked back at it, you know? But yes, totally terrifying in retrospect and so glad he was okay too. Thanks Ashley!

  2. Lindsay

    Thank goodness you were home and it wasn’t somehow when he was alone. Oh my GOD! How scary!!
    Thanks so much for sharing. It just goes to show that no matter how much you know or are experienced as a pet owner, anything can go wrong.

  3. Alyssa

    Unfortunately, I’ve had to help my dog when he was choking, too. (Now I only give him treats that are in bite-size pieces.) I didn’t know about the wheelbarrow position but did a very gentle fist on his belly to push up. This is such a great post to share!

    Feathers and Stripes

  4. Rosie

    That sounds so scary. I’m glad you knew what to do and that Rigby is ok now. Thank you for sharing this, because I would have had no idea what to do if I were in the same situation, and now I do.

  5. sarah

    Thanks for the PSA! I now know how to do the Heimlich for my dogs. I’ve done the back blows move with success and once fished something out of his mouth (when he was a puppy) but I hope I never have to use my new info. And I hope you don’t either!

    1. Jenn Post author

      Thanks Sarah, I feel the same! I actually had forgotten about the back blows when he was choking so I didn’t even try it. I’m glad it works too though!

  6. Victoria

    Omg, I’m so, so glad Rigby is okay!! You did so well in keeping calm even if you didn’t feel it at the time. That is horribly frightening! My pup chokes from time to time even on water (he’ll start coughing but since I switched him to filtered water, he doesn’t cough anymore). I need to be more conscious though and make sure that when I give him baby carrots, I cut them up in tiny tiny pieces. Sometimes I get lazy to cut them but I need to remember how important it is!

    1. Jenn Post author

      Thanks Victoria, and yes that definitely is important! Rigby has a bad habit of not chewing things so they either need to be in tiny pieces or so large that he’s forced to chew them!

  7. Chelsie

    1. This is frightening. I don’t know if I would have kept my head as well as you did! 2. Thank you so much for the video; I never even thought to learn how to handle a choking dog and I would not have been prepared if Rosie started choking. I’m so glad Rigby is okay!

  8. Erin

    This is obviously a terrifying experience but some really great information! I’ve been in some scary sitations like this but I never knew the doggie himelich. One time my Westie got a skinny bone lodged in her throat and I had to pull it out of her throat. (note to any owner who buys bones: don’t buy the ones that are the width of a pencil or smaller: they can get stuck in the throat and choke them)

  9. Andrea Darst

    Wow, I’m glad Rigby is ok, and super glad you shared this! Years ago, our husky/hound mix (90lbs) was chewing on one of his special beef bones that my hubby spoils him with, and Nigel (the dog) likes to bite off chunks of the bone (I know this sounds impossible because of how thick the bones are, but he has super strong teeth). All of a sudden, Nigel started coughing and then he stopped breathing and started hitting his paw against his face and spazzing out. Right away my hubs realized what was happening and got Nigel to lay down and reached his fingers down his throat and managed to pull out the piece. Had he known dog heimlich, that would’ve helped. I wasn’t home, but I’m sure I would’ve panicked! I’m so grateful a. someone was home and b. my hubby is good under stress!

    1. Jenn Post author

      Oh man, so scary and glad your husband was paying attention and able to get the bone out! I’ve also had to pull a piece of bone out of Rigby’s throat (I gave him a bully stick that was too large and he broke it into pieces… big mistake!) however he was coughing and trying to get it out himself. This time around he wasn’t able to even cough which was absolutely terrifying when I realized what was going on!

  10. Rachel

    Ahh! I’m so glad Rigby’s ok. That’s so scary!! Thanks for sharing this, definitely glad to know what to do in this situation, should it ever happen!

  11. Jessica

    Oh, man. I bet that was scary. I have taken several pet first aid classes so I know how to do it but, thankfully, I’ve never had to do the Heimlich Maneuver on a dog (or a person for that matter). Glad Rigby was ok.

  12. Kristina

    I’ve had to give my dog the Heimlich a few times when she was a pup. She was used to eating with her litter mates and would inhale her food. Literally. I had to sit right by her whenever she ate to help her realize she didn’t need to eat so fast and so I was right there if she ever started choking. Seriously though, EVERY dog owner should know this.. My babe might not be here still today without me knowing this.


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