Dogs that enjoy retrieving balls and carrying them around in their mouths sometimes get those balls lodged in their throats. When that happens, there isn’t time to get to a veterinarian’s office—the dog is unlikely to survive more than three to five minutes if its airway is not cleared.

The best solution is prevention—select toy balls large enough that they can’t fit in the dog’s throat, yet small enough that the dog can carry them in its mouth. Tennis balls often are too small for large breeds.

If your dog does get a ball lodged in its throat, first try to open the dog’s mouth and reach a finger behind the ball to pull it free. Do not attempt to grip the ball from the top if you cannot get a finger behind it—that’s more likely to push the ball farther down the throat than pull it out.

If that fails, pick the dog up if it’s small enough to lift, turn it mouth-end down and give a few shakes. If the dog is too large to pick up, lift up its back legs, tilting the dog forward.

If that too fails, try the Heimlich maneuver. While standing behind or over the dog, reach under its belly with both hands and find the last rib with your thumb. Position your hands just past the end of the rib cage, make a fist with one hand, wrap your other hand around this fist, then give a quick jerk inward and upward, into the abdomen. Use enough force to lift the back end of the dog up off the ground. Repeat several times if necessary.

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