Now that was scary. My big dog, Kasey, was choking. He was eating his dinner and stopped. His body got stiff. He lifted his head and stood absolutely silent. After several moments, which seemed like way too long a time, he started to cough and out came a piece of kibble. I petted him, told him he was a "good boy" and gave him a hug. He looked at me and walked off to get a drink of water.
Crisis over. For him maybe. but I realized I didn't know what I would have done for him if he had continued choking. I've always taken precautions when feeding my dogs. I raise their food bowls off the ground, haven't let them eat for at least 40 minutes after exercising, and have always moistened their dry food. This was an instance of my dog swallowing wrong, or the food going down the wrong pipe.
Dr. Maureen McMichael, a veterinarian at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital, in Urbana, who is board certified in emergency and critical care, offers helpful information on how to prevent, identify and handle emergencies experienced by our pets. First, have the phone numbers of your veterinarian and a nearby 24-emergency clinic handy. In case of an emergency, call ahead to let them know you are coming so the clinic can prepare for your arrival.
In the case of your pet choking, McMichael suggests trying to pull it out if the object is not to far down the animal's throat. One exception is if the animal has swallowed string. In that case, get veterinary care before acting.
"Pulling on the string could cause the taut string to rupture as intestinal wall, possibly leading to a deadly infection," said McMichael. "The Heimlich maneuver for animals is similar to the procedure used in humans, if an object is blocking the animal's windpipe."
If your animal isn't breathing, call your emergency veterinarian immediately," advised McMichael. "You can place your mouth over his nose and give three quick breaths in order to help stimulate their breathing."
HealthyPet.com (the website of the AAHA) advises protecting yourself as well as the animal if he is choking, as he will likely be frantic and maybe more likely to bite. The symptoms of an animal choking include difficulty breathing, excessive pawing at the mouth and blue lips and tongue. If the animal can still partially breathe, keep him calm and seek veterinary help as soon as possible.
McMichael suggests learning how to assess your pet's vital signs of respiratory rate and heart rate, so you can provide information to veterinarians so they can decide whether emergency care is needed. You can get a respiratory rate by watching your animal's chest rise and fall with each breath. Normal respiratory rate is between 12 and 15 breaths per minute. You can feel the animal's heart rate and determine whether his heart rate is increasing or decreasing, by placing your hand on your pet's chest. A normal heart rate is 60 to 120 beats per minute in dogs and 140 to 180 beats per minute in cats.
Choking is just one of the emergencies we need to be prepared for in order to take care of our companion animals. If your animal needs first aid, don't go on online. Call your emergency veterinary clinic or your veterinarian immediately.
I'm going to ask my veterinarian where I can take pet first-aid course. Maybe I'll see you in class.
• Contact The Buddy Foundation at (847) 290-5806; visit the shelter, 65 W. Seegers Road, Arlington Heights; or find them online at thebuddyfoundation.org.