Why does my dog sound like she is choking? The Ultimate Guide

It may sound like your dog is choking, coughing, or having an asthma attack, but the episode is likely to end in a few minutes without harm to your dog.

For example, if the cause is a certain kind of perfume, you may want to avoid using it near your dog. If the cause is pulling on the leash, it may be time for some obedience training for calmer on-leash behavior.

An individual episode of reverse honking will likely end on its own after a few seconds or minutes at the most. It’s rarely a cause for alarm. You may, however, want to note the cause of the irritation if you can identify it and steer clear of it in the future.

Anything that causes irritation to the throat or soft palate can trigger reverse sneezing. The causes range from harmless to more serious, but are usually nothing to worry about.

That honking sound is called reverse sneezing, and fortunately, in most cases, it doesn’t require any medical treatment. It’s also known as Pharyngeal Gag Reflex or Paroxysmal Respiration. Reverse sneezing often sounds worse than it actually is, but it can indicate a more serious problem.

How can I tell if my dog is choking?

Signs that your dog is choking include extreme distress, lots of drooling and pawing at the mouth and your dog making choking sounds. Your dog may also rub his face along the ground, gag and retch. If the object is causing breathing difficulties, you may also see coughing and blue coloured skin and mucous membranes. This may eventually lead to him collapsing.

What to do when your dog is choking?

The Heimlich maneuver — a technique of abdominal thrusts for stopping choking — was pioneered by American thoracic surgeon Henry Heimlich (above) in 1974. A version of the world-famous technique has since been developed for choking dogs.

If first aid doesn’t work within one to two minutes, get to your vet as quickly as possible as delaying could mean the difference between life and death for your dog.

When your dog is choking you should:

  • restrain your dog — choking dogs will struggle and potentially bite in their panic
  • carefully use a pair of scissors to cut any object wrapped around the neck
  • open the mouth and look inside
  • use a large pair of tweezers to retrieve or break any objects you can see
  • never push at an object with your fingers if it’s lodged at the back of the throat
  • never stick your fingers down the throat if no object can be seen, as this may cause damage to the delicate tissues at the back of the throat
  • Large objects, such as balls of rawhide, can sometimes be dislodged by placing firm pressure with both thumbs underneath the jaw at the base of the throat and pushing forwards.

    The Heimlich maneuver — a technique of abdominal thrusts for stopping choking — was pioneered by American thoracic surgeon Henry Heimlich (above) in 1974. A version of the world-famous technique has since been developed for choking dogs.

    Dog Coughing Sounds Like a Hairball: Do This

    Over my almost four-decade veterinary career, I’ve seen hundreds of small dogs who made a sound like they were going to choke to death. I’ve also owned a couple who would make a “honking sound” including a current one, our little canine cocktail Quixote. The culprit is something called “collapsing trachea.”

    Found with equal severity in males and females, collapsing trachea can occur in puppies as a heredity problem. This condition is one that usually worsens with age, and is worse when a pet is overweight or obese or has conditions that affect normal breathing (such as allergies).

    A normal trachea is like a radiator hose or reinforced garden hose with regularly spaced rings of cartilage that keep the airway open, and a common diameter from the upper airways to the lungs. In collapsing trachea, one of more of the cartilage rings are weak, the trachea becomes flat, and respiration becomes very difficult. For an analogy, think of having your nose held shut, having to breathe through a straw, and now somebody pinches the straw flat. You got it. Shortness of breath and its companion, panic, come quickly.

    Most affected dogs can breathe normally some or most of the time, but the trachea collapses when the pet is vigorously exercising or gets excited (company at the door?). More than once I’ve had a pet get nervous at the veterinary hospital, have her trachea collapse, and then pass out from a lack of oxygen. When that happens, it takes everyone’s breath away!

    Most of the time we encourage the pet owner to have the pet lose weight. We will prescribe a cough suppressant if the hacking and honking is really bad, and occasionally refer to a very skilled surgeon for surgery to strengthen the collapsing area of the trachea.