Multisystem Diseases: Choking


Cats have a highly developed gag reflex, and they rarely try to swallow large pieces of food or objects that could cause choking. However, should your cat look as if he or she is choking, a thorough examination of the mouth and pharynx must be performed immediately, since suffocation will occur if the airway is blocked. If your cat has been choking and is unconscious and not breathing, follow the procedures for artificial respiration.

If resuscitation is not needed, remove any obstructing debris from the mouth that you can reach with your fingers or a pair of tweezers, keeping in mind that any cat, and especially a distressed one, can inflict severe bite wounds to fingers and hands placed in or near the mouth. So do not attempt to remove obstructing debris by hand if you are unwilling to risk a bite.


If you can’t reach an obstruction, grasp the cat around the abdomen just behind the ribs, tip his or her nose toward the ground, and give a quick squeeze to cause a forced exhalation that may dislodge the object. (This is a Heimlich maneuver for cats.) Avoid swinging a cat by his or her hindlegs to achieve the nose-down position, as you may dislocate the hips.

An alternative maneuver is to lay the cat on his or her side and use the heel of your hand to exert a thrust toward the head just behind the last rib.

Three or four quick, firm but controlled pushes will cause forced exhalation that may dislodge the object. If you are unsuccessful with these actions, seek immediate veterinary assistance. (Rabid cats have been reported to act as if they were choking. Do not attempt to examine the mouth of any cat whose rabies vaccination and exposure status is unknown if you are not willing to assume the risk of rabies exposure).