Emergencies in cats are common and when they happen, it important to know basic skills of what to do. One possible cat emergency is choking. Below we will review the causes of choking in cats, what to do if your cat is choking, and how to prevent cat choking.
What is Cat Choking?
Choking is a life-threatening emergency caused by the blockage of air into the lungs. This can result from something ingested or inhaled that obstructs the airway. Choking prevents normal breathing and without oxygen for a prolonged period of time, either coma or eventually death occurs.
Choking can occur, although it is not a common reason for cats to visit the veterinarian. Some cat owners may believe their cat is choking when they are having difficulty breathing for other reasons such as something that may be caught in their mouth or medical problems such as feline asthma or congestive heart failure.
The most important thing to know is if you believe your cat is choking or having trouble breathing, it is an EMERGENCY! You need to do something immediately. If you truly think your cat is choking – here are instructions on How to Do the Heimlich on Your Cat.
Causes of Cat Choking
Choking causes obstruction of the airway. This is most often from an obstruction of the neck, inhaled foreign body, throat swelling, or foreign object in the throat.
Obstruction of the Neck – Cats can be choked to death by having an obstruction or restriction around the neck. This can be caused by a cats’ collar getting caught or from a cat somehow getting a cord such as the rope from a blind wrapped around their neck. I’ve seen cats come into emergency hospitals choked from an outdoor rope that got wrapped around a cats’ neck, a cat with that tried to jump a fence and was caught, causing him to hang. Those are horrible examples but all reasons for cats to be taken to veterinary emergency rooms for choking.
Inhaled Foreign Body – Inhalation of foreign material is another reason for a choking event. This is uncommon in cats and much more common in dogs. The inhaled foreign body can be part of a stick, weed, or any other object that enters their airway.
Throat Swelling – Swelling of the throat can occur due to an allergic reaction or tumor in or around the airway.
Large Ingested Object – Ingestion of a large object can cause cat choking. It is most common when a small cat or kitten ingests something too big relative to their size that gets caught in their esophagus/throat. This foreign object interferes with their ability to breathe.
Something Caught in the Mouth – Sometimes cat owners believe their cat is choking when something is caught in their mouth. When this happens, the cat is usually in great distress, pawing at their mouths and crying which can make it very difficult for owners to understand what is happening. An example of an oral foreign body that occurs is either a toothpick, sewing needle or a bone caught in the mouth or around the teeth.
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, pawing at the face, trouble breathing, and difficulty swallowing. The lack of air and lung injury can cause pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs). This fluid accumulation occurs due to nerve stimulation and can be life-threatening.
Best Ways to Reduce the Risk of Cat Choking and Keep Your Cat Safe
The best way to prevent cat choking include the following:
- Ensure any collar you put on your cat is a quick-release collar. This can prevent your cat from choking if he or she gets caught on something. Quick-release collars have a mechanism that opens the collar when extreme pressure or force is exerted. Make sure your cat has a collar that fits properly. Tight collars can create serious injury.
- Do not give your cat bones or boned fish.
- Cats can choke on large pieces of food or ride. Learn more in this article: The Ultimate Guide to What Cats Can’t Eat.
What Should You Do if Your Cat is Choking
If you notice your cat is choking, please do the following:
- Remove any item that could be constricting the neck.
- If possible and you can do so safely, examine inside the mouth and remove any foreign object you see. Do not attempt to remove an object unless you can see and identify it. Be very careful. Do not get bitten.
- Gently position your cat’s head/neck in a way to optimize airflow. Position so the chest and nose are in alignment. Try not to bend head too far up or down.
- You can attempt a Heimlich maneuver if you believe your cat has something in his airway. To do this – place a fist just behind the ribs. Compress the abdomen several times (usually 3 to 5 times) with quick gently pushes. Check the mouth to see if the foreign object has been removed. How to do the Heimlich on Your Cat.
- If you believe your cat does not have a heartbeat – go to Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation in Cats (CPR).
- Head to your closest veterinary clinic if they are open or veterinary emergency clinic.
- Even if you are successful in removing a foreign object, a veterinary examination is recommended. An internal injury could have occurred that you may not realize.