I have an 80-pound pitbull named Franny. While she loves to sleep and presumably loves me, there is nothing Fran loves more than eating.

She loves food. She loves treats. She loves rawhides.

A couple of weeks ago, I gave her a rawhide before popping into the kitchen. About five minutes later, I heard choking noises and ran back into the living room to find Franny choking on a piece of the treat.

Here’s the thing: Franny has a huge head. She’s a big dog! So when I pried her jaws open and couldn’t see whatever she was choking on, I knew I was in trouble.

Luckily for me, I looked up what to do when a dog is choking before I adopted Franny last year. (What can I say? I’m a paranoid person.)

So if you find yourself in a similar situation, here’s what to do.

(Spoiler alert: Fran lived! She’s fine. I am more traumatized than she is.)

How do you help a choking dog?

There are a couple of methods to try, depending on how big your dog is.

For small dogs

According to the American Kennel Club, there are two ways to perform the Heimlich maneuver on smaller dogs:

  • Pick up your dog and put their back to your front. Make a fist, place the thumb side of your hand against the soft spot underneath their ribs and thrust in and up. Make sure to be gentle.
  • Place your dog on their back on the ground. Place the heel of your hand on the soft spot under their ribs and push in and up. Again, be gentle.
For large dogs

For larger dogs, the American Kennel Club recommends doing one of the following:

  • Similar to a human, stand your dog on their hind legs and put their back to your front. Place the thumb side of your fist against the soft spot underneath their ribs and thrust in and up.
  • Place your dog on the ground, lying on their side. Press your fist against the soft spot under their ribs and push up and in, in the direction of their spine.

The method that I followed with Franny is best demonstrated in this video:

When I found her choking, I managed to pick Franny up upside-down (I benefitted from what I can only describe as adrenaline-induced strength) and shook her around to dislodge the piece of rawhide in her throat.

After a few seconds, I put her back on the ground, opened her mouth and finally saw the rawhide.

I quickly reached in, grabbed the rawhide and promptly threw away all the rawhides in my apartment.

Signs that your dog is choking

Because your dog doesn’t speak English (or, presumably, any human language), it can be hard to tell if they’re actually choking.

Here are some signs to look out for, according to Mill Plain Veterinary Clinic:

  • Gagging.
  • Salivating.
  • Rubbing their face on the floor.
  • Pawing at their mouth.
  • Coughing.
  • Cyanosis, or blue mucus membranes.
  • Anxiety.