To be prepared for an emergency, it's important to know these life-saving cat care strategies. Learn how to perform first aid in the event a cat is choking.

By Melissa A. Kay
Updated August 21, 2018

It's relatively rare to witness cat choking, but being prepared for the unexpected could be a matter of life and death. The chance exists that your cat could choke on food, a toy, a household object, or even a hairball. Knowing pet first aid is vital for all cat owners.

How to Know if You're in the Presence of a Choking Cat

According to researchers in the United Kingdom, symptoms of a choking cat or cat in distress include:

  • Rubbing its head/face on the ground
  • Pawing at its mouth
  • Gagging
  • Coughing
  • Retching
  • Increased salivation/drooling
  • Labored breathing

Your feline may panic or even faint if air flow becomes completely obstructed. Foul breath, decreased appetite, and listlessness may also occur if a foreign object has been lodged in its mouth for a while but isn't causing a total blockage. Understand that your cat may not actually be choking, but something as simple as coughing up a hairball can be quite painful and scary.

Assess what your cat was doing before he seemingly started choking. (For example, if he was simply sleeping it's unlikely he's choking.) Your cat's gum color also points to his current state. Pink gums tell you he is probably receiving plenty of oxygen, while a cat with blue or purple gums is not getting enough oxygen and will need pet first aid.

What to Do to Help Your Choking Cat

Restrain your cat. A scared, choking cat will bite and claw in panic, potentially causing harm to themselves and you. Once she is secure, open your cat's mouth and get a good look inside. Pull your cat's tongue forward for a clearer view of the back of the mouth and opening to the throat. If you see an object that you can readily remove, do so carefully with your fingers or a pair of tweezers.

Tip: Never push the object because it can become stuck further. Refrain from sticking your fingers down your cat's throat, as this could cause soft-tissue damage.

If you are able to dislodge the foreign object, all may be fine. As a precaution, you may want to take your cat to the vet to be sure there are no additional objects in the throat and to ensure choking didn't cause any harm. Also, if you find a string in your cat's mouth, it's best to leave it alone if it doesn't slide out easily. It could be stuck far inside the cat and pulling it out could cause further medical issues. In this case, it's best to get to your veterinarian immediately.

How to Use the Heimlich Maneuver on a Choking Cat

Just like choking humans can be saved by the Heimlich maneuver, so can cats. The maneuver for cats is as follows:

  1. Lay the cat on its side.
  2. Place one hand along its back for support.
  3. Place your other hand on its belly, directly below the ribcage.
  4. Push the hand on the belly in and up, gently, but firmly. You can also make a fist.
  5. Check your cat's mouth to see if the foreign object has been dislodged and remove it.
  6. Administer a few light breaths through the cat's nose.
  7. Repeat until the object comes up.
  8. Check its pulse and watch to see normal breathing has resumed.

If your cat does not resume regular breathing on its own, cat CPR may be administered. This calls for 120 chest compressions per minute. By this point, however, you should be planning an immediate emergency visit to the vet.

Continuing Pet First Aid at the Vet

Whether you've been able to dislodge the foreign object at home and just need a checkup or if your cat is still choking, a trip to the vet is advised. In severe cases, your vet might be your cat's only hope. A vet may have to sedate your cat to minimize anxiety and to potentially remove the foreign object by hand. The vet may need to insert a breathing tube until the cat can breathe on its own and may take some X-rays in order to pinpoint where the object is lodged. A professional can remove the obstruction swiftly, or she may need to operate for removal.

How to Prevent Choking

Assess your home for objects that can be dangerous as a precautionary measure using this guide from the Humane Society as a starting point. Cats are curious creatures, so be mindful of household items that can become potential choking hazards as part of your overall care strategy. Make sure their toys are well-made and broken sticks and worn-down balls are replaced with new ones. Even if a toy is labeled as safe for your cat, it may become unsafe if torn apart, defective, or if pieces come off of it. Perform a total toy check at least once a month.


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