Biting off more than they can chew

As doting pet owners, we find our dogs’ eager and curious natures utterly irresistible. After all, who can say no those puppy-dog eyes when you open up a bag of new dog treats? However, this endearing characteristic often leads to biting off more of the bone than they can chew. Literally.

smiling brown and white dog

“Fortunately, dogs do not ‘choke’ as often, meaning that they don’t get things lodged in their throat causing them not to be able to breathe,” said Dr. James Barr, assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. “Most commonly, they swallow things that are too big to pass and end up stuck in the esophagus, stomach, or intestines.”

Although bones and other dog treats typically don’t cause any harm, many dogs will try to swallow them whole. What looks like a bone that will last all week to you may be a quick, after dinner snack to them.

“The most common thing that causes actual choking are dog treats like rawhides that can be swallowed,” said Dr. Barr. “Bones and rawhides to a dog that chews them well pose little threat, but dogs that want to quickly ingest their treats are the ones most likely to get things stuck in their throat. Though it’s too big to swallow, they try anyway.”

As one might guess, puppies are more likely than older dogs to swallow something that they aren’t supposed to or take too big of a bite. Because of this, it is important that they have careful supervision until they are out of their “toddler” phase and can be trusted to be alone.

“Children’s toys are common household items not unusual for dogs to ingest. These can include small dolls, trucks, or balls,” said Dr. Barr. “Also, poorly socialized dogs that are food aggressive are more likely to swallow household items.”

Even if Fido properly chews his food before swallowing and knows better than to eat the tennis ball, accidents still happen. If your dog is choking or has something stuck in his stomach, it is best to get to the veterinarian immediately.

“There is not a universally accepted Heimlich maneuver in dogs, but it would stand to reason that a similar thing could work in a dog,” said Dr. Barr. “However, it can be very dangerous to try to remove the obstruction in their throat with your hands while a dog is still awake, which why it is necessary to get them to the veterinarian as soon as possible.”

More often than not, keeping your dog from choking is possible. Try to put children’s toys and other household items that are small enough to ingest out of sight, and—keeping your dog’s personality in mind—decide what types of treats and bones are safe to provide.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed online at Suggestions for future topics may be directed to .

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