Choking and Gagging in Cats

View the Things You Didn't Know About Your Pet Slideshow Pictures

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.

Foreign Bodies in the Mouth

Foreign bodies that can lodge in the mouth include bone or wood splinters, gristle, slivers of wood, sewing needles, pins, porcupine quills, fishhooks, and plant awns. Some penetrate the lips, gums, and palate; others become caught between the teeth or wedged across the roof of the mouth. Pieces of string can become wrapped around the teeth and the tongue.

Suspect a foreign body when your cat paws at her mouth, rubs her mouth along the floor, drools, gags, licks her lips, or holds her mouth open. Occasionally, the only signs are loss of pep, bad breath, refusal to eat, and an ungroomed appearance.

Treatment: Sit under a good light source and gently open your cat's mouth. A good look may reveal the cause of the problem. It is possible to remove some foreign bodies using tweezers. Others will require the cat to be under general anesthesia-which requires a trip to the veterinarian.

Foreign bodies left in place for a day or longer may cause infection. A broad-spectrum antibiotic is recommended for one week.

This article is excerpted from “ Cat Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook” with permission from Wiley Publishing, Inc.

Subscribe to MedicineNet's General Health Newsletter

By clicking Submit, I agree to the MedicineNet's Terms & Conditions & Privacy Policy and understand that I may opt out of MedicineNet's subscriptions at any time.

Reviewed on 12/3/2009 11:30:05 AM

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors