Opening a Dog's Mouth

Choking Hazards and the Heimlich Maneuver for Pets

Pet are our 4 legged children, and like 2 legged children, often like to put things in their mouth that could be dangerous to their health!

Common causes of choking for dogs are bones that have splintered (never give a dog poultry or fish bones), hard rubber balls, lumps of gristle, rawhides and other chew toys or chew sticks -  especially because they can become swollen and enlarge due to moisture.

Common causes of choking for cats are small things: a pen cap, a thimble, a length of ribbon, tinsel, twine, string; part of a toy mouse. 

Removing the object (see pictures below for how to safely open a cat or dog's mouth) 

When your pet is choking, panic - for both of you - is a normal reaction. However, they are depending on you to help them, so take a deep breath, and:

  1. Use a towel to wrap your pet; or have someone help restrain your pet
  2. Open your pet's mouth gently (see the instructions and pictures to the right for both cats and dogs)
  3. See if you can easily remove the object with your fingers 

A special note for cats who have a length of twine/string/ribbon etc. stuck:

Unless it slides out like a wet spaghetti noodle, DO NOT pull it. It is likely stuck somewhere inside and pulling will only make things a lot worse. Instead get your cat immediately to the Veterinarian or an after hours Emergency Clinic.

For any choking situation, even if you were able to remove the object, it may have damaged your pets mouth and-or throat in areas you cannot see. You should still take your pet to the Veterinarian or Emergency after hours hospital as soon as possible after the choking incident. Depending on the length of time the pet was without oxygen and the damage to the mouth or throat, the pet may require hospitalization or surgery.

What if you can't remove the stuck object?

If you cannot remove it and your pet is still choking, you have 2 choices:

  1. You can try to get to the Veterinarian office or nearby after hours Emergency clinic in time - this depends on where you live and how close the facility is, or
  2. Try the Heimlich maneuver followed by CPR if necessary (serious choking can cause a lack of oxygen), then get your pet immediately to the Veterinarian or after hours Emergency clinic.

PetMD has step by step instructions on how to perform the Heimlich maneuver and CPR on Dogs and Cats:


  • ​Pet MD
  • ​College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University
  • Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine
  • VCA

Opening a Cat's Mouth