When your cat chokes: 4 immediate steps to take

Cats, just like humans, may choke on their food if it goes the wrong way. You can tell if your cat is choking by closely observing its behaviour. You may notice your furry companion with its mouth wide open and tongue sticking out while making heaving sounds. Your cat may also place its paw inside its mouth as if trying to reach for something.

If you notice your cat in such distress, the best approach is to remain calm. Your goal should be to try and remove the item inside its mouth — or keep the cat relaxed enough for transportation to a vet's office. Here are 5 immediate steps you should take.

 1.    Carry out a physical inspection

If your cat is calm enough, hold her near you and gently open her mouth to identify any choking objects. You should also gently pull out her tongue to get a better view of any food that's blocking her airways.

If it's safe to do so, use your index finger to pull out the blocking object. Don't be too aggressive, however, as you may end up pushing the object further down your cat's throat.

2.    Gently manipulate the digestive tract

Cats tend to choke on their food if they eat too quickly. Gobbling down food may result in a big chunk getting stuck in the cat's digestive tract, making it necessary for you to remove the item as quickly as possible. The cat Heimlich technique is perhaps the most effective way of helping a choking cat.

Begin by holding your cat with its back against your stomach, while gently pushing on the cat's belly. Use inward and upward thrusts to create a force that will expel the choking item. If you notice that the cat has expelled what she was choking on, gently put her down and check her mouth to confirm.

3.    Don't tug on any loose ends

Not every item is safe to remove from your cat's airways. In particular, tugging on loosely hanging food (that emerges from your cat's mouth) may cause significant damage to internal organs. This is the case when your cat eats a ball of string or items such as pasta. Such items may have to be surgically removed by your vet.

4.    Check if your cat is breathing properly

Most cats will still be able to breathe as they try to remove what is causing the blockage. But if your cat is unconscious, you should immediately get her to a vet for emergency treatment.

Begin by gently opening your cat's mouth (with its tongue out) to inspect for any food items that you can remove with your finger. This may help unblock airways and restore breathing while your cat is in transit to a vet hospital like Wakeley Veterinary Hospital.