Cats can end up chewing a lot of strange things just out of curiosity. Many will not hesitate to sample what they find interesting, be it a ball of yarn, a colorful pack of rubber bands, or a shiny piece of aluminum foil. However, as many cat owners will tell you, this curious habit can sometimes get them into trouble.
If you think your cat has swallowed a foreign object or has something stuck in her throat, it is extremely important to visit your veterinarian right away. Throat blockages can be life-threatening, and if the obstruction is in the airway, you might only have a matter of seconds to save your cat’s life.
Why your cat may have something stuck in her throat
Cats naturally love exploring their environment using their nose, mouth and tongue. This habit could be triggered by their hunting instinct, the urge to find a potential mate, or a natural curiosity about their surroundings. Unfortunately, this curious nature sometimes sees them chewing and swallowing some rather random objects that they should not be touching or playing with.
Swallowing small objects or insects can be dangerous for our furry companions, as there is a chance that these foreign bodies may get stuck in their throat or airway. Your pet might also choke as a result of eating too fast or too much. This can be a frightening incident for a fur parent, yet it is important for you to remain calm so you can properly assess your cat’s situation.
Foreign objects trapped in your cat’s throat can cause discomfort, pain, and inflammation of the soft tissue in the mouth. If not removed right away, the blockage can become fatal as it prevents your cat from breathing properly.
Another thing that can get lodged in your cat’s throat is a hairball, but generally in this case she should be able to expel it herself after a few seconds.
However, if it is anything else, take your cat to the vet right away. On your journey to the clinic, you can also try to apply first aid techniques such as the feline Heimlich maneuver to save her. Keep in mind that choking accidents in cats are considered an emergency – you need to act fast as their brain can only survive a few minutes without oxygen.
Symptoms to watch out for
Foreign objects stuck in a cat’s throat can block either the esophagus or the airways.
If your pet is struggling from an esophageal obstruction, you might notice symptoms such as:
- Swallowing problems
If the esophagus is partially blocked, the symptoms might include lack of appetite, lethargy, pneumonia, esophageal infection, and weight loss.
However, an obstructed windpipe can be more serious and your cat might display symptoms like:
- Noisy breathing
- Coughing and wheezing
- Signs of distress
What you should do
If you think your cat has an obstruction in her throat, the first thing you must do is check her mouth to see if you can find out what is causing it. Be careful while restraining her, as she will likely injure you out of fear or panic.
Sometimes, a hairball may be the culprit for your cat’s gagging. After a few attempts at throwing up, she should be able to get it out.
However, there are instances when your cat will not be able to expel a hairball or other foreign body lodged in her throat. In this case, there are two things you can do while waiting for your vet.
First, try to do a mouth sweep. Using your index finger, gently sweep your cat’s mouth to remove the foreign matter. Make sure that you do not push your finger into the throat while checking for the blockage; instead, pull her tongue out carefully so that you can check for an obstruction at the back of the mouth or throat.
If you cannot retrieve the foreign object, then try performing the Heimlich maneuver. Hold your cat with her back resting against your chest and firmly push her belly with your hands. Every blow must be done with a quick, upward-thrusting motion. Do this about five times and see if the object is dislodged. Otherwise, hold your cat’s hips and gently do a mouth sweep again. Repeat the process until you can retrieve the foreign object.
If your cat is choking on a string, never attempt to pull it out – there is a chance that the string has caught on something inside her body. If it slides very easily, it may be safe to pull it out.
Check whether your cat is still breathing after removing the lodged foreign object from her mouth. If not, you need to perform rescue breathing while someone drives you to the nearest veterinary clinic.
What to expect at the veterinary clinic
Even if you have successfully managed to remove the foreign object from your cat’s throat, you still need to visit the vet to check for signs of injury. Your vet might request chest and neck x-rays to check for any fractured ribs, especially if you performed the Heimlich.
If your cat is still struggling with an obstruction in her throat or upper respiratory tract, your vet’s priority will be to remove the foreign object using tools such as a balloon catheter or endoscopy and forceps. If the retrieval is too difficult, he will need to push the object further into the stomach and let it pass normally through the gastrointestinal tract. In the worst cases, surgery might be required to successfully remove the foreign body.
While your cat is recovering, your vet will also prescribe medications to relieve any inflammation or irritation caused by the obstruction. The soft tissue in the esophagus is extremely delicate and sensitive, so it is possible for your cat to experience a lot of discomfort and pain after the procedure. Thankfully, cats can recover quickly, but you might still need to feed her soft food to make swallowing easier for her. Depending on the severity of the injuries, your vet might also prescribe medications to help heal the damaged tissue and prevent infection.
Choking is completely preventable by eliminating potential hazards in your home. Some of the most common choking hazards are paper clips, straws, rubber bands, bottle caps, plastic bags, aluminum foil, balls of yarn, ribbons, and pom-poms. Make sure to keep these items in a safe place, away from your cat’s prying eyes. Remember that curious cats enjoy exploring everything around their home, especially while their humans are away, so never leave Fluffy alone with free access to these small objects.
Although toys can be an excellent way to keep your furry friend entertained, some toys can break into small pieces and might become a choking hazard. Make sure to choose larger toys, such as cat balls or anything bigger than Fluffy’s mouth. Make sure to supervise your furry pal when she plays with smaller toys, such as feather wands or fishing pole-type toys.
Wrapping it up
A cat struggling with a throat obstruction is often a medical emergency. If you find your furry companion choking, there might be a very small window of time to save her life. You can perform first aid such as the Heimlich maneuver to dislodge the foreign body, but ensure that you rush her to the veterinary clinic as well, even if you have successfully retrieved the object. Do not shake or spin your cat, as this risks trauma and brain injuries.
To prevent choking accidents, make sure that your cat does not have access to tempting items she might chew. You also need to consider cat toys that do not break down into smaller pieces, to prevent your furry pal from swallowing small, broken parts.
Image: istockphoto.com / kaorinne