Cat emergencies are common, considering their inquisitive nature, and it is important to identify an issue quickly and take action. One frequently occurring cat emergency is choking, which has a rapid onset of symptoms and short window of time to alleviate the blockage.
Choking is a life-threatening emergency caused by an obstruction that keeps air from entering the lungs. This can result from ingestion or inhalation of an item that obstructs the airway, preventing normal breathing. Without oxygen for a prolonged period of time, a cat may enter a coma or even die.
Some cat owners may believe that their pet is choking due to breathing difficulties brought on by other ailments, such as feline asthma or congestive heart failure. The most important thing to understand is that if you believe your cat is choking or having trouble breathing, it is always an emergency and action needs to be taken immediately.
Here are the causes of choking in cats, what to do if your cat is choking, and how to prevent choking:
Causes of Choking in Cats
Choking is caused by an obstruction of the airway. This is most often from a blockage in the neck, inhaled foreign body, throat swelling, or foreign object caught in the throat.
- Obstruction of the Neck. Cats can be choked by having an obstruction or restriction around the neck. This is often caused by a cat’s collar getting snagged or an object and getting wound around their neck. Also, monitor hanging chords associated with window blinds around kittens, as this is a potentially dangerous cause of strangulation.
- Throat Swelling. Swelling of the throat can occur due to an allergic reaction or tumor in or around the airway.
- Large Ingested Object. Ingesting a large object can cause a cat to choke, and it most commonly occurs when a smaller cat or kitten swallows an item too large for their esophagus. The object in question then interferes with their ability to breathe.
- Something Caught in the Mouth. Cats can choke when a foreign body is inadvertently stuck in their mouth. When this occurs, the cat may be in great distress, pawing at their mouths and crying, which can make it very difficult for their owners to provide assistance. An example of an oral foreign body can be a toothpick, sewing needle, or bone caught in the mouth or wrapped around the teeth. A regurgitated hairball can also cause an obstruction.
Symptoms of Cat Choking
Symptoms of choking can vary, but generally include anxiety and very obvious distress, in addition to gasping for air, gagging, drooling, and difficulty swallowing. Lack of air and injury to the lung may also cause pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs), which is precipitated by nerve stimulation and potentially life-threatening.
Best Ways to Reduce the Risk of Choking
The best way to prevent your cat from choking is by keeping potentially sharp or dangerous items out of their reach and away from their throats. Never feed your cat bone-in food items and always ensure that any collar you utilize is a quick-release collar.
Quick-release collars have a mechanism that opens the collar when extreme pressure or force is exerted, which can help to prevent your cat from strangulation or serious injury.
What To Do if Your Cat is Choking
If you notice that your cat is choking, do the following:
- Remove any item that may be constricting their neck.
- Examine inside their mouth (if possible) and remove any visible foreign objects.
- Gently position your cat’s head/neck in a way that optimizes airflow. Position so that the chest and nose are in alignment without bending the head too far up or down.
- Attempt the Heimlich maneuver if you believe that your cat has something stuck in their airway.
- To perform the Heimlich maneuver, place a fist just behind the ribs and compress the abdomen three to five times with quick, gentle pushes. When completed, check the mouth to see if the foreign object has cleared and repeat if necessary.
- If you believe your cat does not have a heartbeat, read on in our article concerning Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation in Cats (CPR).
- Head to your closest veterinary clinic, even if you have successfully removed the foreign object, since a veterinarian will have to determine if internal injury has occurred.