Young golden labrador choking

If your dog is choking, it may indicate kennel cough.

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Why does my dog choke?

By Dr. Liz Barton MA, VetMB, MRCVS Veterinarian

Updated on the

Your dog is choking, but is it just a tickly cough or is it serious and you need to call a vet?

Just as with us humans, dogs can choke for harmless reasons and for very serious ones. You need to be aware of what type your dog is experiencing, so read on for a breakdown of the various types your pet may experience.

Why do dogs choke?

Dogs choke for many reasons. If your dog chokes when they drink water or when they are eating, it could be due to their anatomy. For example, short-nosed breeds have long, soft palates that can get in the way.

If your dog chokes when they bark or are excited, this can mean a throat irritation (tickly cough). But a persistent choking cough – often followed by retching – can indicate kennel cough and you should contact a vet for advice. Kennel cough is infectious to other dogs, so keep your dog away from meeting other dogs, if you notice these symptoms.

If your dog chokes on the leash, it is usually due to pressure on the throat from their collar pulling too tight. Choke leads and chains are not recommended for this reason. This can be prevented by training them to walk to heel or using a chest harness. Remember, your dog legally has to wear a collar with an identity tag when they are outside, so check you can comfortably fit two fingers under their collar to make sure it’s not too tight.

When should I call the vet if my dog is choking?

Your dog may choke occasionally in the course of normal life. But there are four reasons to take your dog to the vet for choking:

1. If your dog is choking so much that they become distressed. If choking goes on for more than five minutes, this can mean something is stuck and you will need to get take your dog to the vet as soon as possible.

2. If your dog is struggling to breathe. You may notice your dog’s gums going pale or blue, and they may be distressed, panicking or they may even faint. You should act immediately and take your dog to the vet as quickly as possible. Call ahead for advice and so the vet can be ready to act swiftly when you arrive.

3. If your dog is choking frequently. Each choking episode may be short and mild, but if it happens on a daily basis, it may indicate an underlying problem. This is less urgent, but you should arrange to have your dog checked by the vet. As this may indicate kennel cough, don’t take your dog into the waiting room until your vet is ready to see you, to reduce the risk of infection to other dogs.

4. If you can see something stuck in your dog’s throat. Trying to remove it at home could risk further damage, so this should only be done by a vet.

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