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Saturday, March 28, 2009

"Doc, There's Something Stuck In His Throat"

The longer I practice, the more surprised I get at certain things. One of them is the number of people who think that their pet has something stuck in their throat.

The situation normally begins something like this. A client brings in their dog because he has been coughing. The pet may or may not have been chewing on a bone or a stick or paper or something like that. The cough is sporadic and not constant and has been going on for a few days. The main concern that the client has is that the dog has something stuck in its throat and that's the reason for the cough.

In order for something to cause a cough, there needs to be irritation in the trachea. Yes, things can get caught there, but it's not a simple thing. If some sort of object is stuck in the trachea it is VERY irritating. This won't cause several days of occasional coughing. This will cause pretty frequent and pretty severe coughing. It may also cause difficulties breathing depending on how big the object is. However, this situation is very rare. In 12 years of practice I have never seen a coughing pet that actually did have something stuck in the throat, yet I frequently have clients who think this has happened (including today).

Now that's not to say that it isn't possible. I've read cases of tracheal foreign bodies or obstructions, and have spoken to colleagues who had to deal with such a case. But it's definitely not a common occurrence.

So if your pet has problems with coughing, definitely take him or her to your vet. But don't automatically assume that something is stuck in the throat. Odds are that this is NOT the case and there is another cause. Listen to your vet and follow the recommended diagnostics and treatment.

40 comments:

  1. I second that. I pulled some kind of dental chew out of the back of a dog's mouth once, but that dog wasn't even in distress. But for the most part people don't seem to want to believe that there really isn't anything stuck. I just don't understand why that must be the most logical reason for their pet's problem. But then again there is a lot I don't understand about people!

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  2. When I first owned a small breed dog, I had no idea what reverse sneezing was. (This was before the internet was around) So of course I thought something was stuck in my dogs throat or that she had some sort of infection, so we rushed her to the vet. ;) Low and behold she had stopped her reverse sneezing episode before we got there. She was checked out and she was fine. Later that day, she did it again. I rubbed her throat and she ended up relaxing and it stopped. I took a book out of the library on little dogs and that's where I first heard of the term reverse sneezing. The vet that I had taken her to didn't mention anything about reverse sneezing and honestly, it's a scary sound if you've never heard it before and my dog's tongue would go blue! Now that I've owned several small dogs, they all seem to do it on occassion, so I know what it is and I don't panic. lol But you can't fault someone for being concerned about their pet. Better to be too concerned then not concerned enough. ;)

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  3. Nicki, I completely agree! The longer I practice, the less I understand about people.

    Tasha, I also agree. Better to be safe than sorry and have your vet check things out. Reverse sneezing is very scary if you don't know what it is, but thankfully it's harmless.

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  4. I love when people come in and try to imitate the reverse sneeze for me-since the dog is never still doing it by the time they get there!

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  5. I've actually become pretty good at imitating a reverse sneeze myself! It helps to have something for the clients to compare it to, and I got over being self-conscious about it. :)

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  6. I have a dog that has a hearing aid battery stuck in his trachea and I have an xray to prove it. The vet we took him to didn't know what to do to help him. We have to call around to find a vet that has a endoscopy. Do you have any suggestions of things we might do to help him before we find a vet that can help us.

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  7. What is the point of this article? If you are trying to help dog owners you could at least say what some common causes are for this kind of coughing/choking. My dog cannot bark and seems to be trying to dislodge something from his throat. The only thing I've gained from your article is that you think it's common for people to think this. Useless.

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  8. Bodo, I'm sorry to say but you must not have read the post very carefully. The point was that when a pet is coughing, it's rarely anything actually stuck in the throat. And if the coughing is persistent, you should see your vet. Also, the point of my blog isn't to only educate, but to give a daily-life perspective on being a veterinarian. If your dog is having these problems, see your vet and don't rely on internet information. There is absolutely no way for you to diagnose this yourself, or for anyone to specifically diagnose a problem without an exam.

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  9. I was wondering if there is something stuck in there what are somethings we can try to relax the throat ans either have them swallow it or bring it back up. my dog never had this problem until yesterday when she ate a nacho chip off the floor. i have a purebread Lab and she tends to just devour her food and not chew. like you said the coughing/gaging noise isnt a consistant thing she does it a couple time then stops. but if i get her to look up and I rub her throat area she starts again. And whats even weirder is my friend had the sister to her and has been doing the EXACT same thing for over 2 weeks. it really does seem as if there is something stuck in there and shes trying to puke it up. Any suggestions other than a big vet bill????

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  10. If something is stuck and is causing coughing, then it's in the trachea, not the esophagus. There's nothing you can do about that at home, and will need to see your vet.

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  11. Chris Burn you are very patronising, "The longer I practice, the less I understand about people". So what if people think the wrong thing is wrong with their pet, at least they care and are bringing it to see a vet. Its vets like you that put people off taking their pet to see the vet. Your paid to give the correct diagnosis, if us owners had all the answers then we wouldnt need vets. All i can say is thank god my vet isnt like you and is always happy to help and isnt judgemental.

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  12. Anonymous, I think you'd be surprised at what your vet may actually think. I am very helpful to my clients and always encourage them to come in. In fact, re-read my last paragraph in the post where I tell people to come in and have it checked out. But having known many dozens of vets in almost 30 years in the field, I can promise that the average client doesn't really know what most vets think and talk about. Nicki (the first commenter) is also a vet and agrees with this post.

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  13. "I think you'd be surprised at what your vet may actually think."

    What a helpful thing to say! Im glad your helpful to your clients but obviously slag them off afterwards and by what your saying most vets do the same and are two faced!

    "I can promise that the average client doesn't really know what most vets think and talk about."

    You sound like such a lovely person and im not really sure what your trying to achieve but its very negative and we as clients have to have faith and trust our vets and by saying things like the above is not at all constructive.
    We pay you to help us and our pet not to be fake and come online making caring owners feel stupid.

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  14. Vets are people, pure and simple. We have the same strengths and weaknesses of any other person. There is no other profession that doesn't talk about their difficult or frustrating clients or customers. Do you think that retail cashiers don't talk about the cranky person who had unreasonable requests? Do you think that MDs don't talk about their paranoid and hypochondriac clients? Do you think lawyers don't talk within the office about the crazier people they help? Do you think that mechanics don't laugh about some of the things they have to deal with? Honestly there really are silly, crazy, stupid, unreasonable, or cranky people in this world, and we all have to deal with them at some point. Check out this very popular web site for plenty of examples: http://notalwaysright.com/

    Anonymous, I would sincerely doubt that you've made it through life without making some snide or criticizing comment about somebody you've known or interacted with. Simply put, nobody's that perfect. And if you're against me for doing such things then you're being hypocritical and disingenuous. I'm not doing anything that you and everyone else in this world haven't done at one point or another. I'm just being honest and public about it.

    And that's really my point in responding to you. You're assuming things that you don't really know about. I have clients that I love and continually say wonderful things about. I have clients that I love seeing and will always help. I have clients that I would do just about anything for, and that I really admire. I have clients that I have never said a bad thing about in years of seeing them. But I also have clients that I dread seeing. I have clients that by most common standards are unreasonable people. I can promise you that your vet is in the same situation and has the same range of clients, whether or not it involves you.

    All of this doesn't mean that we can't be professional, thorough, and give the best care possible. I do that for every client and patient, regardless of my personal feelings about them. I've also commented positively on many clients in this blog, and if you look at responses to questions sent to me you'll see that I'm not like you seem to want to make me out to be.

    You're also completely missing the point of the original blog post that generated these comments. Yes, I was slightly poking fun at people who continually think that something is stuck in their pet's throat when it really isn't. But through pointing it out, I am also trying to educate people not to jump to conclusions, that things lodged in the throat are actually rare, and that they should see and trust their vet's analysis of the real problem.

    Remember in the Wizard of Oz when the curtain was pulled back revealing that the "Great and Powerful Oz" was nothing more than a man with some special effects and parlor tricks? Dorothy and her friends were very surprised and disappointed. But that didn't diminish what he accomplished and had them do. In this blog you're seeing the REAL side of veterinary practice, not the glamorized one. You're seeing the curtain pulled back to reveal the man behind the wizard. And that can be disconcerting.

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  15. I feel your post was helpful! I have a tea cup terrier who has been, over the past few days and very randomly, gagging. Your post has helped me to relax and stop overreacting by thinking something is caught in her throat. I love and worry about her like a child and couldn't bare it if something were to happen to her. However having four children in college we have found ourselves financially strapped and cannot afford vet visits outside of the norm, so I must admit, I look to the web for useful info. Your post not only eased my mind but made me laugh as the person you described is me!

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  16. Glad it helped, MK. And I'm glad you understood the spirit in which I wrote the post!

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  17. I have an American bulldog and every time we come back from walking, she gets a cough that leads to her gagging and throwing up just clear liquid, no solids, or blood err ne thang just sum saliva, thick feelin clear liquid, so i was wondering if this could be a sign of heartworms n if not wuut tha hell is it?? I knoww I needa see a vet but ne thought help

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  19. what do you mean by coughing?

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  20. My cat Arthur was eating a chunk of whole rabbit yesterday. He panicked at one point and clawed at his mouth. That night he wretched a couple times and spit out a small amount of saliva.

    Today he is fasting and secluding himself. His breathing is fine. When I press on the left side of his throat he cries.

    I'm not one to run to the vet when something is wrong. When my cats are ill, such as having a cold, I allow them to fast. They have fasted up to 8 days with no problems. I prefer for my cat's body to heal itself.

    So if Arthur has a rabbit bone stuck in his esophagus, will his saliva dissolve it? And how long would that take? At what point should I consider intervention necessary?

    I would much rather his body deal with his foreign object than have to put him under and have surgery performed. I appreciate your response.

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  21. Hi, I have a LAb/Bulldog who got loose and when came back he had a bone or stick stuck in his mouth. He has done this before and we were able to retreive it but this time he wants no part in it. You can tell it is bothering him but he wont let us and we cant afford a Vet bill at this time. Any suggestions on how to sedate him long enough to remove it? Please Help Me. Katie from Ga

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  22. Katie, there is nothing you can safely give him at home that will sedate him enough for you to safely get the object out. Depending on how seriously something is stuck, you can also potentially do harm by just yanking it out. You absolutely need to take him to your vet and find some way to get the money.

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  23. Dr. Bern, Took my Rambo to the vet after 5 days of occassionally coughing and hacking like he had something stuck in his throat. xrayed his body,not his throat, next night took him to hospital, xrayed throat, airway blocked, 7 hours later without intubation, died, necropsy states that he slowly suffocated from swollen larynx beagle/terrier mix. Care to be a veterinarian expert witness in negligence case.

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  24. A swollen larynx wouldn't be visible on x-rays, as soft-tissue structures like this blend in with surrounding structures. If there was an object in the larynx it may have been seen if it was dense enough, but swelling or inflammation would not have been. A narrowing of the trachea may have been noticeable, but if it was that severe and localized an underlying cause should have been detectable. You will need to pursue this locally.

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  25. Dr. Bern...
    I for one LOVW this blog. :D
    Hope you can help.
    After reading Jennie's post I'm worried about my Beagle Trixie. She's almost a year old. She has had skin irritations and your normal ear infections over the months but never anything serious like what I'm about to describe. Please keep in mind that we originally had her sister Stella. We lost her (Stella) just before Christmas. It was very traumatic, so as you can imagine, it was extremely theraputic for us to adopt Trixie. She is such a joy. The most amazing dog I have ever owned. I swear our souls are connected! Anyways...if something happened to her I would be completely devestated!...

    Over the course of about 4 days now, she has started to reverse cough (it distresses her so much, her eyes even close, it scares me as much as her I think but I keep my cool and try to comfort her)...then the past 2 days sneezing...this morning when I woke, her muzzle and lips were very swollen! Some time between the time my partner let her out at 6 am until I got up with her at 8, I noticed Trixie "smacking" herself VERY VERY hard on the right side of her muzzle with her paw (I honestly didn't think anything of it)! That's the side that was most swollen. She has "acted" normal otherwise. The swelling has subsided considerably this evening on her face but she is still reverse sneezing occasionally. She had a very small nose bleed this evening as well. I've examined her nostrils to see if there was grass stuck in there but I saw nothing.
    Help?
    Jules...Trixies worried mama

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  26. Jules, it sounds like Trixie had an allergic reaction to something, most likely an insect sting or bite since it was so noticably on one side of the face more than the other. This is common and usually not life threatening. If it happens again I would recommend giving Benadryl (diphenhydramine) at about 2-4 mg/kg (1-2 mg/lb) and then call your vet.

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  27. I came on your website because my dog was exhibiting the symptoms you described. However less than half an hour after reading your post, our beagle threw up a small twig covered in blood. I realize that your website states people do overreact but it seems as though this occurrence isn't as unlikely as you portray it to be.

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  28. This vet spends a lot of time apologizing for being useless and overly glib. "It's usually not something in their throat" is kind of a useless sentiment to someone wondering if their dog is about to die. Furthermore, if something is stuck back there, this advice is potentially deadly.

    Why not link to some other things that might explain the symptoms? Why not provide ANY INFORMATION AT ALL instead of just being snide and defensive? Disgusting.

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  29. Anonymous, are you really serious? First of all, when have I ever apologized for my comments? I have been posting on this blog for almost 3 years and never once have I apologized for the way I posted something.

    Second, I completely and 100% stand by my position that most of the time when someone thinks that something is stuck in the throat, there really isn't. I challenge you to find a vet with a contrary opinion. I also acknowledged in the original post that occasionally there will be something in the throat, and even describe how irritating that will be.

    Third, I state very, very clearly on my sidebar that information in this blog should never take the place of seeing your vet. Nobody should rely on information found on the internet as the main source of treatment for their pet, including my own blog.

    Fourth and lastly, you have completely misunderstood and misrepresented the intent of this post. My blog is more about life as a veterinarian rather than giving specific advice (unless directly asked). I never intended this particular post to be a way that people could figure out what was wrong with their coughing/gagging dog. See the previous point.

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  30. Come on people... stop giving the poor vet a hard time. Pay more attention to what was said--> IT IS RARE FOR SOMETHING TO ACTUALLY BE STUCK IN YOUR DOGS THROAT AND THE ONLY WAY TO KNOW FOR SURE IS TO TAKE YOUR DOG TO THE VET!!!

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  31. Oh my Goodness Thank you! My dog Angel is being treated for kennel cough.I brought her in the first day she displayed symptoms. She improved with in 24 hours of receiving the antibiotic injections. ( stopped the frightening wheezing/spasm thing)She's on oral antibiotics now and coughing occasionally esp when I'm walking her. It's been six days since sypmtoms/treatment started. and this whole time I've been worrying that the true problem is she has something stuck in her throat! To tell you the truth, I'm likely still going to have her xrayed..mostly to convince myself so i can stop projecting my fears on my poor little dog!. Thanks a million for the info..Carly

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  32. My dog got into chewing gum and all day has been coughing, or its more like weezing. And its not every now and then its all day constantly, im really worried.

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  33. You should go to your vet. The artificial sweeteners in chewing gum can be toxic, and there might be a choking risk based on what you describe.

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  34. erm.. my dog has had this recurrent reverse sneezing and regurgitation twice so far and both times it coincided with him destroying a polyester fiber stuffed toy. the fibers are small and can get anywhere..
    so maybe you should redefine 'nothing' as something you vets can't see or detect with instruments and methodology at your disposal, hm?

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  35. This is prob just one of those dumb questions as well, but, I need to ask.. My dog ate some turkey bones on thanksgiving, she had vomited up bile the next morning and didn't eat much the next day.. I didn't put the 2 together until later when I was told she ate the bones.. I read about the cottonball remedy, her poo then looked good and she was eating canned food so I assumed it was cleaning out, though I have seen 0 bones in the poo... yes, I looked! ok, so you see the picture and my Q. is... tonight she is making a weird odd noise she has never made before, she is making a noise like she is hacking up a loogie or something, like a cough but not, so I wonder if it is the reverse sneezing that has been mentioned.. but I am having a real difficult time visioning this sneeze and an even harder time trying to think of the sound... I know from your post that she most likely doesn't have something stuck in her throat, yet that was my first thought and what I was google-ing. My question is simply what your thoughts are, the vet office is close, however do I need to run her in to the emergency clinic, does it sound like something, or does it just sound like I am only of those annoying hypochondriac clients that worries way too much? Thank you

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  36. While out for a rock with my grandfather rocky apparently ate a rock. Since coming back he is acting normal except appears to be trying to hack something up. The sides of his mouth seemed pulled back in a way and he appears to be trying to put one of his paws in his mouth (he has slobbered all over it)..What do you think could be going on?.

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  37. This sounds like something might be stuck. You need to take him to a vet ASAP.

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  38. Dr. Chris Thank you for taking your time,unpaid as it is, to answer and address questions from my fellow pet owners. I appreciate your time even if others seem to find fault in your advice. Please continue your spirit of volunteerism and ignore all the racist-angry-ugly people who are making off hand remarks without contributing even an ounce of knowledge to this blog.
    p.s. People if you can 'not' afford a vet bill then be humane and fair to your animal, allow that animal the opportunity to find a new home that can care for it properly.

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  39. Recently a reader has posted comments on this topic that are very deliberately insulting, hateful, and even racist. I welcome differing opinions as long as they are intelligently presented and respectful. Heck, I'll even tolerate impolite and uneducated comments, as you can see in some of the above statements. But I absolutely will NOT tolerate the kind of comments that have recently been posted. Therefore I have deleted those comments and will be closing any further comments on this topic.

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