Choking and Gagging in Cats

The sudden onset of forceful coughing, pawing at the mouth, and respiratory distress in a healthy cat suggests a foreign object caught in the larynx. Foreign bodies caught in the larynx are not common. Most food particles are of little consequence because the resulting cough expels them.

If your cat is choking with gagging, retching, and respiratory distress, assume there is a foreign body caught in the cat's throat and seek emergency treatment.

Treatment: This is an emergency. If the cat is conscious and able to breathe, go at once to the nearest veterinary clinic.

If the cat collapses and is unable to breathe, lay the cat on her side with her head lower than her body. Open her mouth, pull out her tongue, and look for the foreign body. When you see it, take hold of the cat's neck behind the lodged object and apply enough compression to keep the object from passing down. With your fingers in the cat's mouth, work the object loose as quickly as possible. If unsuccessful, proceed to the Heimlich maneuver.

The Heimlich Maneuver

  • Place one hand along the cat's back and the other just below the sternum or rib cage.
  • With both hands in position, give four forceful thrusts by pressing in and up.
  • Next, check the mouth for the foreign body with a finger sweep.
  • Then give two breaths, mouth to nose.
  • Repeat cycles of compression and artificial respiration until the object is dislodged.

Foreign Bodies in the Throat (Choking and Gagging)

Some cats, especially kittens, may try to eat or swallow string, tinsel, cloth, fishhooks, and other small objects or toys. Depending on how far down the throat an object is lodged, the cat will exhibit gagging, neck extension on swallowing, and choking on swallowing.

If the signs are forceful coughing and the cat is having difficulty taking in air, the foreign body has passed into the larynx.

Treatment: Cats are extremely difficult to restrain when they are panicked. Struggling with them may cause a foreign body to work deeper into the throat. Do not try to open the cat's mouth. You may attempt a mini Heimlich maneuver but if this does not work immediately, do not delay. Calm the cat as best you can and proceed directly to the nearest veterinary hospital.

However, if the cat has fainted, the foreign body will have to be removed at once to reestablish the airway. Open the cat's mouth. This is now easily accomplished because the cat is unconscious. Take hold of the neck behind the object and apply enough pressure to keep the object from passing down while you hook it with your fingers. Work it loose as quickly as possible. Then administer artificial respiration, if needed.

Prevention: Watch your cat carefully and do not let her play with small, easily torn toys. Do not feed a cat chicken bones or long bones that can splinter.