When a pet emergency occurs, it's important to know what to do in the moment of distress. From performing the cat Heimlich maneuver to preventing choking accidents, learn some important ways to help your cat in a crisis.

What Can I Do?

Sometimes a cat choking incident is caused by a hairball that they can't expel, but accidents are more often the result of an object (food, hair tie or plastic toy) lodged in their throat. If you see your cat choking, try to remain as calm as possible while you determine whether or not their airway is really blocked. If it's simply a hairball, they will have it out in a few seconds. If there is an obstruction, you will need to follow two steps.

  1. Mouth sweep: First, gently open your cat's jaws and sweep their mouth with your index finger to see if you can remove the obstruction. Look inside their mouth while you're checking for an object to avoid pushing anything farther down their throat, says Cat-World Australia, and gently pull their tongue forward to check the back of their throat. If you don't see anything in their mouth or cannot conduct a safe sweep, move on to the Heimlich maneuver.
  2. Cat Heimlich: When performing a cat Heimlich maneuver you hold your kitty with them back against your chest and their feet hanging. Use your hands to gently but firmly push on their belly in a succession of quick, upward thrusts, about five times. If your first set of blows doesn't dislodge the object, says PetCoach, hold your cat up by their back hips with their head down and gently sweep their mouth again. Tap your hand firmly against their back and check their mouth again. After you remove the obstruction, bring your cat to the nearest emergency veterinary clinic immediately.

Can I Prevent My Cat From Choking?

Eliminating cat choking hazards in the first place is a key way to keep your pet safe. Take a walk through your home and think like a cat: What's small, shiny and could be easily swallowed? Common choking hazards include:

  • Craft supplies like pom-poms and pipe cleaners
  • Rubber bands
  • Paper clips and staples
  • Plastic bags and cellophane
  • Bottle caps and wine corks
  • Straws
  • Aluminum foil

Curious cats will go exploring when you're not home, so store your stuff in a pet-proof location. Never let your kitty play with trash like wadded-up aluminum foil or plastic bags. They may have fun doing it, but it only takes a second for those objects to become stuck in their throat.

Made for cats, led by science

We believe that science is the best path to giving your pet the best care possible. 

Made for cats, led by science

We believe that science is the best path to giving your pet the best care possible. 

Cat Toy Safety

Some cat toys can be dangerous as well. Avoid toys that have dangling decorations like feathers, bells and googly eyes. Opt for larger toys like balls, toy mice or crumpled pieces of paper that are larger than your cat's mouth. The two of you can enjoy supervised playtime with the popular fishing pole-style toys, but tuck them out of reach when your cat is out of your sight.

Despite the common image of a cute kitten playing with a ball of yarn, it's not safe for your cat to play with any kind of string or ribbons — they are choking hazards. If your cat has a string hanging out of their mouth (or rectum) says Animal Planet, do not try to pull it out. You could damage their throat or intestines. Consider it an emergency situation and contact your veterinarian immediately if you suspect your cat has swallowed a string.

What Else Causes Choking?

In some cases your cat could be hacking and gasping because of an underlying health issue. When your cat coughs and is gagging with her mouth open, for example, they may have an obstruction or choking situation. They could also be experiencing discomfort due to other causes for the gagging/gasping. This isn't always a choking emergency, but it's uncomfortable for your furry friend. A hairball that won't come up could also lead to serious medical problems if it becomes trapped and blocks the digestive tract. If your cat hacks up a hairball more than once a month or so, talk to your veterinarian about how to reduce frequency and/or size. Hairballs can also be a sign of underlying gastrointestinal disease or overgrooming issues.

In some cases, the Cornell Feline Health Center notes, frequent gagging may be a sign of a gastrointestinal problem or an issue with the mouth/thorat. Cats can also appear to hack and gag but it is actually a cough - talk to your veterinarian about the difference between coughing and gagging as coughing can be a sign of other types of urgent medical issues like asthma or infections in the lungs. To determine what's causing the coughing and find help for your cat, your veterinarian may need to do some testing like X-rays or blood work.make an appointment with your vet.  If you're wondering what to do when choking on saliva, your vet can provide guidance for cat choking situations as well.


Christine O'Brien Christine O'Brien

Christine O'Brien is a writer, mom, and long-time cat parent whose two Russian Blues rule the house. Her work also appears in Care.com, What to Expect, and Fit Pregnancy, where she writes about pets, pregnancy, and family life. Find and follow her on Instagram and Twitter @brovelliobrien.