Dog Health Alert: Differentiating Between a Seizure and Choking

on October 29, 2023
Dog Health Alert: Differentiating Between a Seizure and Choking

As a responsible dog owner, understanding potential health risks and being able to quickly identify them can make a world of difference for your pet. Two medical emergencies that can be particularly alarming are choking and seizures. Both can happen suddenly and can be terrifying to witness. While the immediate symptoms might seem similar, they are distinct events that require different responses. This guide aims to help you differentiate between the two and know how to act in each situation.

Understanding the Basics

Before diving deep, it’s essential to grasp the foundational knowledge of both events:

  1. Seizures: These are sudden disturbances in the brain's electrical activity, leading to changes in behavior, movement, and consciousness.
  2. Choking: This happens when a foreign object blocks the windpipe, obstructing airflow and making it difficult or impossible for the dog to breathe.

Symptoms of Seizures in Dogs

Recognizing the signs of a seizure can be the first step to ensuring your dog gets the necessary help:

  1. Muscle Contractions: Involuntary spasms or jerking movements, typically of the limbs.
  2. Loss of Consciousness: Your dog might fall to the side and become unresponsive.
  3. Paddling Motion: Dogs often move their legs in a paddling or swimming motion.
  4. Drooling or Foaming at the Mouth: This can be a result of increased salivation.
  5. Involuntary Urination or Defecation: Loss of bowel or bladder control is common during a seizure.
  6. Dazed or Confused Behavior: After the seizure, dogs often seem disoriented or temporarily blind.

Symptoms of Choking in Dogs

Choking symptoms can vary depending on the severity and the cause:

  1. Panic and Agitation: A choking dog is likely to panic, trying to paw at its mouth or scratch its face.
  2. Audible Signs: Wheezing, coughing, or gagging sounds can indicate something obstructing the airway.
  3. Difficulty Breathing: Watch for labored breathing or even periods where the dog doesn’t seem to breathe at all.
  4. Blue or Pale Gums: A clear sign of oxygen deprivation.
  5. Collapse: If the obstruction is not cleared, the dog may lose consciousness.

Differentiating Between the Two

Though the symptoms listed can help you identify the situation, it's the combination and progression of these symptoms that truly clarify the event:

  • Onset: While both can be sudden, choking usually follows an event like eating or playing with small toys. Seizures can seem more out of the blue.
  • Duration: Choking will persist until the blockage is cleared, whereas seizures often last a few seconds to several minutes and then stop on their own.
  • Post-event behavior: Post-seizure, dogs usually exhibit a “post-ictal” phase where they might seem disoriented, temporarily blind, or even a bit wobbly. Choked dogs, once the obstruction is cleared, recover quickly, showing relief but not prolonged confusion.

Immediate Response for Each Situation

  1. For Seizures:

    • Stay calm. Your dog is likely unaware during the event.
    • Ensure they are in a safe location, away from stairs or sharp objects.
    • Do not put your hands in their mouth. Contrary to popular belief, dogs can't swallow their tongues.
    • Once the seizure stops, keep the environment calm and quiet to help them recover.
  2. For Choking:

    • Approach your dog carefully; a choking dog may bite out of panic.
    • If you can see the obstructing object, gently try to remove it with pliers or tweezers, but be careful not to push it further down.
    • For smaller dogs, you can attempt the Heimlich maneuver by placing your hands just below the rib cage and applying firm upward pressure. For larger dogs, laying them on their side and giving a firm push to the rib cage can help.
    • If you cannot clear the obstruction, rush to the vet immediately.

Prevention is Better Than Cure

  1. For Choking:

    • Always supervise meal and playtimes.
    • Choose toys suitable for your dog's size and replace them when they start breaking apart.
    • Train your dog to avoid grabbing things from the ground with commands like "leave it."
  2. For Seizures:

    • Regular vet check-ups are essential to catch underlying health issues.
    • Keep your home environment free from potential toxins or harmful substances.
    • Monitor and report any unusual behavior or pre-seizure signs to your vet.


Understanding the difference between a seizure and choking is essential for dog owners. The key is to stay calm, assess the situation, and act accordingly. Remember, if you're ever in doubt about your dog's health, it's always best to consult with a veterinarian. They can provide guidance tailored to your pet's unique needs and circumstances. Your vigilance and quick thinking, combined with professional guidance, can ensure your furry friend leads a safe, healthy, and happy life.

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