This article is about the time Juno got a rawhide stuck sideways in her throat, and some things you can do to prevent or deal with this situation if it happens to your dog.
We were recently reminded of this incident after receiving a comment on our post about clipping your dog’s nails. The comment mentioned the importance of building familiarity and trust with your dog from the early puppy stages, so that you can help your dog when it becomes injured or just needs general grooming. An added benefit of this long-term bonding is reduced stress for your dog and for you.
As a Labrador Retriever, Juno has always been a mouthy, orally-fixated dog (surprise, surprise!). To help constructively direct her chewing instincts, as well as burn off her seemingly boundless energy, a rawhide bone or two per day have been staples of her daily routine since she was a young puppy. We’ve given her various forms of rawhides (always 100%, untreated rawhide): bone shaped, rolls, chips/slices, etc., depending on what’s been available in our area, and based on price.
Based on our experience, here are some general observations about dogs and rawhides.
- Dogs often love rawhides. Labradors certainly do. Chewing rawhides seems to give them great comfort, and a tremendous sense of purpose, productivity, and accomplishment. Also, Labs love eating.
- They chew on the rawhides, gum them, rip at them, and soften them in order to eat them.
- Chewing rawhides helps build coordination in puppies (develop use of their paws in holding and controlling the rawhide).
- Chewing rawhides relieves teething discomfort in puppies, and may also contribute to them losing their puppy teeth.
- Chewing rawhides contributes to helping dogs keep their teeth clean, healthy, and strong (good for overall oral health in dogs, but do consult with your vet).
- Chewing rawhides may also contribute to adult dogs losing their teeth.
- Sometimes, there will be minor traces of blood on the rawhide, usually from the dog’s teeth or gums. Generally, this isn’t a problem, although seek professional consultation if the bleeding doesn’t stop, or becomes more profuse.
- Sometimes, adult dogs try to swallow pieces of rawhide that are too big. This results in them variously showing different signs of discomfort including putting their heads down on the floor, drooling, gagging, coughing, or “yakking” the rawhide up on to the floor, whereupon the chewing process likely begins again shortly, after some general mouth-slopping and some “what happened there” expressions on your dog. They chew the rawhide down to a more reasonable size before trying to swallow it again.
- When a dog tries to swallow a piece of rawhide that’s still too big, they run the risk of choking on it (worst-case scenario), or getting it lodged in their throat (not a good situation, but not the worst-case scenario, yet).
One night, Juno got a piece stuck sideways in her throat.
She started to behave a bit differently than usual while she was finishing off her nightly rawhide. She wasn’t choking or showing any signs of panic, but instead of commencing her cleanup routine of licking the carpet/mat where she was chewing her rawhide, or her paws, she put her head down, outstretched in front of her, and just looked at us.
Then she sat up straight suddenly, and stuck her head forward, looking at us, and then lay down again as she did before. She repeated this sequence several times, and was making a lot of “gumming” noises and motions, like she had a serious case of morning pasty-mouth.
She also got up and moved closer to us, and lay down by our feet, and started to nudge us for attention. When we clued in that something wasn’t quite right with her, we tried to rub her throat, and noticed that we could actually feel the rawhide in her throat from the outside.
Fortunately, after much familiarity- and trust-building since she was a puppy (see our post on nail-clipping for examples), we looked in her mouth, and could see a bit of the rawhide at the back of her mouth.
While one of us held her steady, the other one tried to reach in and get a hold of the rawhide piece. It was slippery, non-graspable, and well-wedged.
After about a half-hour of neither us, nor Juno, being able to get the rawhide out, we ran through our other options. We didn’t want to run the risk of trying to get through a night waiting to see if Juno could clear the obstruction on her own (running the risk of the obstruction becoming a more serious choking hazard), so looked up the hours of our vet (fortunately, they were still open for another 45 minutes that evening: just enough time for us to get in for a visit).
We gave them a call, and the on-duty vet said to go ahead and bring Juno right in.
We carefully collared her and leashed her (not wanting to impact her throat and cause her to choke), got her into the car, and over to the vet before their closing time.
The vet staff were expecting her, and took her right in.
Juno’s a pretty big dog (for a Labrador), and it took three staff to hold her steady, while the vet was able to grab the rawhide and maneuver it safely out of her throat.
The process was fast (just a couple of minutes), and there was no damage to Juno’s mouth or throat.
Generously, they didn’t even charge us for the service. They simply expressed their gratitude that we were present, observant dog owners who did the right thing, didn’t leave their dog unattended while eating, and got quick help for their dog when needed.
The vet and staff also took advantage of several quality minutes of cuddle and play time with a renewed Juno, given the empty office that was getting ready for closing.
In our view, this was time well-spent in exchange for a potentially life-saving, or at a minimum, comfort-saving, procedure on short-notice.
We are grateful for our local vet and their supremely caring staff, and look forward to our next non-emergency routine visit!
And of course, it’s a joy to have a dog that’s healthy, happy, and ready for another day and another rawhide.
So, in addition to working extensively with your puppy to build familiarity and comfort with you touching its paws, face, mouth, and ears, here are a few take-home lessons from this experience we’d like to share with you.
Always supervise your dog when you’ve given it something to chew on.
Especially do not leave your dog unsupervised when chewing on something that could be a choking hazard. We differentiate here between something like a treat/kibble ball that dispenses small kibbles as your dog pushes it around (small or unlikely choking hazard), and something like a rawhide or other chewable, consumable product (bone, toy, etc.). This advice particularly applies if considering leaving your dog with something to chew on when you leave the house. We recommend against that practice. Make every effort to be present when your dog is awake and chewing on something.
Recognize a change in your dog’s behaviour.
This recognition requires that you’ve paid attention previously and identified your dog’s unique “usual” behaviours. Although Juno didn’t show any signs of serious distress (such as difficulty breathing, panic, etc.), she suddenly didn’t “seem like herself.” She got a bit of a greyish tone to her, and kept alternating between sitting up, and then lying down with her head outstretched in front of her.
These behaviours were very different from her clean-up behaviours, of licking the place on her mat where she chews her rawhides or Kongs, or grooming her paws/forearms, etc. We also noticed that she kept on looking at us as if for help, as if she needed something. Her expression wasn’t her usual, “OK, what’s next?” expression. It was more of, “something’s not right, I can’t quite tell you, but I need you to help me out.”
Keep the contact info, hours, locations, etc. of your vet and/or after-hours or emergency vet clinics readily available.
Think: magnet on your fridge, contact info on a bulletin board, or in your phone.
Similarly, make sure you have a way to get there if you need to.
Options include making sure your car/vehicle is available; a neighbour or nearby family member or friend is willing/available to assist with transport, a pet-friendly taxi/transport service is available, or even a pet-focused emergency service is available in your area.
Make efforts to have a vet that is located relatively close to your home, for easy access in case of an emergency.
Realize that it’s time to get some help.
In our experience, this time arrives when your dog is unable or unwilling to do anything further to help itself; or when you, as owners, are unable or unwilling to do anything further (for whatever reason), and you need a more professional intervention. You’ll need to balance this decision timing-wise with the availability of your vet and/or emergency vet services, and transportation options for getting there.
We recommend being prepared by having an awareness of your options and any limitations ahead of time.
Kind of like having a First-Aid kit handy in your home, and a list of emergency contacts on your fridge and in your phone.
Thanks for taking the time to read this post, and for your care and investment in your dog.
We truly wish there were more dog owners like you out there.
Let us know your experiences and solutions in the comments.
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