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How to Tell if a Cat Is Choking: 8 Vet-Reviewed Signs & What to Do

Written by: Cassidy Sutton

Last Updated on June 11, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team

cat is choking

How to Tell if a Cat Is Choking: 8 Vet-Reviewed Signs & What to Do


Dr. Paola Cuevas Photo


Dr. Paola Cuevas

MVZ (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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If your cat is choking, you need to ask fast, but before you try to give your cat the Heimlich, you should know what a choking cat looks like. Sometimes, cats look like they’re choking, but they’re coughing up a hairball. Below, we’ll discuss eight signs to look for when your cat is choking and what to do next.

divider-catclaw1 The 8 Things to Do if Your Cat Is Choking

1. Check for Signs of Choking

Cats often cough up hairballs that make it look like they’re choking. For first-time cat owners, this can be surprising and a little scary. Usually, cats crouch low to the ground and stick their necks out when they need to cough up a hairball. They sound like they’re wheezing, indicating air is passing through their lungs (a good sign).

However, choking is different. Here are the most common signs of choking:

  • Gagging
  • Coughing
  • Can’t hear air pass-through
  • Blue gums (cyanosis)
  • Pawing at the mouth
  • Salivation
  • Rubbing the face on the ground
  • Collapse

Blue gums are a clear sign your cat is choking. If that is the case with your cat, move on to step two quickly and calmly.

2. Restrain Your Cat

swaldded cat, cat towel, restrained cat, cat burrito, white foam in mouth
Image by: DreamBig, Shutterstock

Safely restraining your cat keeps them steady while you move on to the next steps. Burrito wrapping your cat with a towel, pillowcase, or blanket is the best way because the cat’s back legs can’t bunny-kick you.

The most important thing to remember is to not lay on your cat or apply too much force on their head or limbs.

3. Try  Coupage

Place your cat with their front legs lower than their back legs to take advantage of gravity. Make a cup with your hand and apply firm strikes on both sides of your cat’s chest and between the shoulder blades. Four or five strikes may encourage coughing and the clearance of the airway.

4. Remove the Blockage if Possible

Owner of cat checking their cat's mouth
Image by: Yimmyphotography, Shutterstock

Open your cat’s mouth and see if you can see any obstructions in the throat. Remove the object if you can.

5. Get to the Nearest Animal Emergency Hospital

If you can’t remove the obstruction from your cat’s throat, drive to the nearest emergency animal hospital immediately. Ideally, you should go to an emergency vet, but you can go to a general practice veterinary office if that’s the closest one nearby.

It’s best to call the animal hospital beforehand so they can prepare for your arrival. Have someone else drive, and you stay on the phone with the animal hospital if needed.

6. Perform the Heimlich

Perform the Heimlich maneuver on your way to the vet if necessary. It’s similar to performing it on a person. Hold your cat with their back against your chest and their feet hanging. Make a fist with one hand and position it underneath the ribcage. Gently but firmly thrust your fist in and then upward toward the ribcage. Do this several times until the obstruction loosens or you arrive at the vet. divider-catclaw1

What to Do When Your Cat Stops Choking

It’s still a good idea to take them to your vet if your cat stops choking before you need to leave for the animal hospital. This is especially true if you performed the Heimlich on your cat. Sometimes, the thrusts of the Heimlich against the abdomen can injure them.

Your cat’s throat is another area that should be examined if there is an obstruction. It is possible that the object scratched your cat’s throat as it came up, so a veterinarian should check the area.

Lastly, choking limits oxygen to the brain, which has serious side effects if not adequately monitored. A veterinarian can help your cat recover from the trauma and provide instructions for moving forward.

Why Does My Cat Keep Coughing but Nothing Comes Out?

It’s normal for a cat to cough occasionally. But if your cat keeps coughing and nothing comes out, it could be an issue with their respiratory tract, not because your cat is choking.

Respiratory problems can stem from several causes. The most common are:

  • Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis
  • Bordetella
  • Asthma
  • Heartworm
  • Allergies
  • Inhaled grass or water

Seeking veterinary help right away isn’t necessary. However, if the coughing persists for longer than 2 days, it’s best to have your cat examined.

3 cat dividerFinal Thoughts

A cat choking is no joking matter. It’s a scary moment, especially if you don’t know what signs to look for. But now you do, and you know exactly what to do if you have to cross that bridge in the future. Hopefully, you’ll never have to!

Featured Image Credit: JackieLou DL, Pixabay

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