My Cat Is Choking: What Do I Do?

Cats will often hack and sound like they are choking when trying to cough up a hairball. However, sometimes a cat isn’t merely coughing but actually is choking on something. When a cat chokes on a foreign object, it can become life-threatening if the object gets stuck.

Choking is very common and is often the reason a cat finds himself in an emergency vet clinic. Cats are curious little explorers, and though we all do our best as pet owners to keep our feline friends safe and healthy, even under the most watchful of eyes they can get in trouble.

When a cat is choking, always remember that time is of the essence. How quickly you respond could mean the difference between life and death for your kitty.

How to Prevent Your Cat from Choking

As always, it’s better to prevent an emergency than react to one. You can try to keep your cat safe by making sure their toys don’t pose any choking hazard, and that the toys you do give them are in good condition.

If the toy is falling apart and threads are coming loose, it’s probably no longer safe for your kitty to play with. Also, do your best to keep your cat out of the trash because they can find all kinds of intriguing things to chew on that pose a choking hazard.

Also, since hairballs are common, you need to be diligent about keeping your cat well-groomed and hydrated and make sure they get plenty of fiber. You can also feed your cat food that is specially formulated to fight the formation of hairballs, which can help significantly reduce their risk.

My Cat is Choking: How Do I Know?

Much like dogs, cats can choke on a variety of things. These items range from small objects such as pen caps to toy parts, bones and bone shards, hairballs, stuffing and feathers, and really just about anything that is the right size to get stuck.

Sometimes cats can choke because they’ve got something wrapped around their neck and they can’t get loose, such as a piece of string or rope, or from a collar that is too tight. A cat can choke for other reasons as well.

If your cat experiences a trauma or has a severe feline allergic reaction to an unknown allergy, the throat can swell and become so closed and blocked that the cat’s airway is compromised.

A cat that is choking will cough and gasp for breath when something becomes lodged in their trachea or larynx and blocks the flow of air. When this happens, a cat will often become panicked the harder they try to breathe.

You should be concerned that your cat is choking and needs help if they appear to be distressed or if your cat is coughing, gagging, or retching.  You should also be concerned if you notice they seem to have more saliva than normal or if they are pawing at their face and rubbing it against the ground.

These are all signs that your cat may be choking on something and that they need immediate attention. You may also see labored breathing or panting. If your cat’s airflow is blocked completely, they may not be able to breathe at all. Cats that have a completely blocked airway may fall unconscious due to a lack of oxygen.

Either before or after a cat falls unconscious you may notice their tongue looks a little pale or blue in color. This is due to cyanosis. Cyanosis is a warning that your cat isn’t getting enough oxygen to his vital organs and can be the clear sign you need to take action immediately.

Restraint When a Cat is Choking

You need to open their airways and if possible remove the obstruction, but because of their anxiety and panic, this can be somewhat difficult, especially if you don’t have anyone there to help.

You risk getting bitten or scratched, which means you have to proceed with caution. Restraining the cat helps, and when you open your kitty’s mouth, you can use your fingers to press your cat’s lips to his teeth. This may help prevent an accidental bite.

If your cat is conscious but too anxious for you to hold without getting scratched or bitten, the best option is to wrap your cat up in a towel. You can then either attempt to remove the object on your own or transport your cat to the vet as soon as possible.  

Steps to Remove the Foreign Object

If you would like to try to remove the object yourself or if your cat is not breathing and has fallen unconscious and needs immediate attention, here are the steps you need to take in order to save your cat’s life.

Step One

The first step is to restrain your cat if he is still aware of his surroundings. The best way to do this is to wrap your cat in a towel. Wrapping your cat up can make him feel more comfortable while also preventing him from scratching you.

Step Two

Then you’ll want to clear your kitty’s airway by tilting your cats head and pointing its nose upward. Keep your hand over the top of the head so that your cat’s canines are just in front of your thumb and index finger. With your cat’s head tilted, push your thumb in the direction of your finger and your cat’s mouth should open fairly easily. Use your fingers to pull your cat’s tongue out but be gentle.

Step Three

Look inside your cat’s mouth to see if you can get a visual on whatever is causing the blockage. If you can see it, you can try to sweep it out with your finger. Just be very careful not to push the object further down your cat’s throat and make the situation worse. Also, as tempting as it may be, don’t use tweezers or pliers to remove the object. Using these tools can be extremely dangerous if your cat decides to thrash around while you are trying to free the obtrusion.

Step Four

The next step if you can’t get the object out with your finger, is to pick your cat up by its back legs and hold him upside down. Then shake your cat vigorously. While this action may seem extreme, it can help to dislodge whatever is in your cat’s throat. You could also try slapping your cats back while shaking them to help further dislodge whatever is stuck. Just remember, do not use so much force that you are going to injure your cat even further. This technique should only be used in a life or death situation.

Step Five

If you’re still not successful in getting the object out of your cat’s airway, you can try laying your cat down on their side and using your hands to try to force the object out by pushing on your cat’s stomach. You can do the procedure if your cat is unconscious also, it’s a form of the Heimlich maneuver for cats.

Put one of your hands on your cats back, and then put the other hand on your cat’s stomach just beneath its ribs. Using the hand you have on your cat’s stomach, push sharply in and up several times.

You can also try putting your palms on your cat’s abdomen on both sides of the stomach, just behind the last rib. Then press your palms together in a pulsing motion three or four times quickly. Repeat either of these procedures if the object still remains caught in your cat’s airway.

Step Six

If you do manage to get the object out but your cat doesn’t seem to be breathing, you’ll need to feel for a heartbeat and possibly perform feline CPR. You can feel for your cat’s heartbeat by using your fingers. Simply place them an inch below your cat’s elbow in the center of the chest. You should be able to feel whether or not the heart is beating in this position.

Step Seven

If your cat has a heartbeat, you can give them artificial respirations. Do this by keeping your cat lying on its side and extending their neck and head. Hold your kittie’s mouth closed and blow into its nostrils. Use firm breaths at a rate of 1 for every 3 to 5 seconds. Repeat this process until you see your cat’s chest begin to rise or you feel any kind of resistance.

Do a check after about 10 seconds and watch your cat’s chest to see if it’s moving and if he is breathing on his own. If he still isn’t breathing on his own, you need to continue giving him artificial respirations and transport him immediately to the nearest emergency animal clinic.

Step Eight

However, if your cat doesn’t have a heartbeat, then you will need to perform feline CPR. This is a combination of chest compressions and artificial respirations. You can do feline CPR by keeping your cat lying on their side and kneeling down by his head.

Use your hands to hold your cat by the chest so that their breastbone rests in the palm of your hand. You should have your thumb on one side of their chest and your fingers on the opposite side. Your fingers and your thumb should fall approximately about the middle of your cat’s chest.

Perform compressions by squeezing your thumb and fingers together with firmness. Shoot for 100-260 compressions a minute. After 30 seconds, perform the artificial respiration steps above by holding your cat’s mouth closed and blow into his nose.

Again, blow firmly for 3 seconds and then repeat up to 10 to 20 times per minute. Make sure you stop if you feel any resistance from your cat or see their chest begin to rise. After a full minute, you’ll want to stop and reassess your cat and check to see if their chest is moving.

You’ll also want to feel for your feline’s heartbeat once again. If your kitty still doesn’t have a heartbeat, you’ll need to continue the CPR efforts. However, if your cat’s heart begins to beat again yet they still aren’t breathing on their own, repeat the steps for artificial respirations.

You’ll need to make arrangements to transport your cat right away to the nearest emergency clinic and continue your rescue actions on the way or until your cat recovers its breath and heartbeat without the need of your assistance.

After a Cat Chokes

Once the foreign object has been removed and your cat is breathing on his own again, with a strong, steady heartbeat, you should still get him assessed by a vet, even if he seems perfectly normal and like nothing happened. CPR and the Heimlich maneuver can both be very stressful on a cat’s fragile body. Your cat may have additional damage such as broken ribs or trauma to the stomach.

Your cat could also have wounds or lacerations in their mouth that need to be looked at. Your vet might want to run additional testing like chest X-rays, a physical exam, and perhaps even hospitalize your cat for monitoring. They may also want to scan your cat’s stomach and make sure there were no foreign objects ingested during his choking episode. Additionally, if your cat has any mouth trauma, oral antibiotics may be necessary.

And finally, if your cat has had difficulty breathing for any length of time and still appears to be struggling, your vet may want to give him supplemental oxygen to help combat its effects. Also note that sometimes a cat can accumulate fluid in their lungs. If so, your vet may want to give them a diuretic to help reduce some liquid to get them back to a healthy state. Ultimately, it’s important to remember that even if your cat looks and acts fine, it’s much better to be safe now, than to be sorry later.

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