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

cat is choking
Image Credit: JackieLou DL, Pixabay
Last Updated on November 16, 2023 by Cassidy Sutton

Vet approved

	Dr. Paola Cuevas Photo

Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

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 actually coughing up a hairball.

Let’s talk about eight signs to look for when your cat is choking and what to do next.

divider-catclaw1The 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 may sound like they’re wheezing, indicating air is passing through their lungs (which is 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 this 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 Credit: DreamBig, Shutterstock

Safely restraining your cat helps keep your cat 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 to the head or limbs.

3. Try  Coupage

Place your cat with front legs at a lower level than 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 help to encourage coughing and clearance of the airway.

4. Remove the Blockage if Possible

Owner of cat checking their cat's mouth
Image Credit: 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 ahead of time 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 its back against your chest and its 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 your cat 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 an animal.

Your cat’s throat is another area that should be examined if there was 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 properly monitored. A veterinarian can help your cat recover from this trauma and know what to monitor 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 your cat’s respiratory tract and not because your cat is choking.

Respiratory problems can stem from a variety of different reasons. 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. Fingers crossed you never have to, though!

Featured Image Credit: JackieLou DL, Pixabay

About the Author

Cassidy Sutton
Cassidy Sutton
Cassidy is a professional pet sitter and vet tech turned writer whose passion is all things animals, both wild and domestic. She’s had dozens of pets and loves writing about the animal-human bond. She and her husband now live in Wichita with a German shepherd named Raven, two cats, Lucy and Strudel, and a few backyard chickens. 

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