Why Does My French Bulldog Choke On Food?

What’s not love about Frenchies? They’re funny and playful, they have a friendly personality, and they are simply so cute! No wonder the French Bulldog is rapidly rising in popularity. And yet, it is exactly that cute flat face that makes Frenchies prone to respiratory issues and choking, causing their owners to fly into a panic. Here’s what you need to know about French Bulldogs and their problems with food, and, most important, how to deal with these frightening life-threatening incidents.

Why do French Bulldogs have difficulty breathing?

French Bulldogs got that distinctively comic face through selective breeding, which favored the apparition of a breed with very short nuzzles. While the dog’s head shrunk and the face became flatter, the anatomical structures inside their skulls remained pretty much the same. Simply put, these tissues don’t have enough space in your beloved Frenchie’s skull and this is what causes respiratory problems. Here is a list of the most common problems found in Frenchies:

  • Stenotic nares – the dog’s nostrils are abnormally narrow and limit airflow 
  • Elongated soft palate – the soft, back roof of the mouth is too long and blocks the airway
  • Hypoplastic trachea – a restrictive windpipe
  • Sacs along the voice box are blocking the trachea
  • Enlarged protruding tonsils

All these issues are symptoms of what doctors refer to as brachycephalic syndrome. Not all French Bulldogs present all the issues above and if you notice your pet has breathing difficulties you should consult with a vet. 

Why might this make them choke on their food?

Most French Bulldog owners have witnessed scary incidents when their pet seems to be choking while eating. Obviously, this problem stems from the fact Frenchies have all that excessive tissue crammed in their nose and throat. For some of these dogs, every breath is a struggle and imagine trying to push some food down the throat while fighting for air. On top of it, French Bulldogs are prone to obesity, which only compounds their breathing problems.

Finally, any short-nosed dog often has swallowing problems which can lead to food getting into their airways and lungs,  causing pneumonia.

Experts say a little gagging is to be expected with Frenchies and should not pose a real threat, but excessive gagging and choking on food are obvious signs of distress and require immediate medical attention.

How can you help a dog that is choking on food?

Going to the vet is very good advice, but this won’t help you when your dog is actually choking in front of your eyes. Knowing what to do can save your pet’s life. Basically, you need to do the same thing as when you’re witnessing a child or an adult choking on food. 

The first thing to do is to examine the dog’s mouth. Pull out his tongue and try to extract the food piece that is causing the obstruction.

If this is not possible, you need to perform the Heimlich maneuver:

  • Stand behind your dog and place your arms around his body
  • Make a fist with your right hand and push firmly up and forward, just behind the rib cage
  • Repeat this thrusting motion until the foreign object is dislodged from the dog’s airways and he starts breathing normally
  • If the dog is lying in its side, place one hand behind his back for support and the other hand on the abdomen and use the same forward and up movement to dislodge the piece stuck in his throat

How can you help a Frenchie to eat slower?

To prevent your French Bulldog from choking you should try to make him eat slower, so it doesn’t interfere with his breathing. As you cannot reason with your pet, the best thing to do is making it challenging for them to get to the food and here are a few tips on how you can achieve that:

  • Use a slow feeder bowl – Such bowls have a raised pattern on the inside which basically divides the food into smaller portions. This pattern prevents the dog from gulping down the food as he will have to work his way around the bowl.
  • Use a muffin tin – Divide the dog’s food and place it several cups on the tin. Your Frenchie will be forced to pause as he moves from one cup to another, slowing down his feeding frenzy.
  • Put the food on cooking paper – Spread the dog’s food around on a sheet of cooking paper in a thin layer so there’s basically nothing to gulp on. Your pet will be forced to lick most of his food, which will prevent him from choking
  • Get an elevated dog bowl – This kind of bowl is particularly recommended for Frenchies as it reduces the tension on the neck and back. If the dog maintains a good posture during feeding, he will be less likely to choke
  • Buy an automatic feeder – This might be a bit of an investment, but your adorable dog’s comfort is worth it. With an automatic feeder, you can set portion size and feeding schedules, making sure your pet is fed regularly and eats slower
  • Feed by hand – This doesn’t cost you anything and allows you to spend more time with your Frenchie, making every meal a fun-filled moment 

What is acid reflux and why do French Bulldogs get it?

Acid reflux in dogs appears when the acid and enzymes from the stomach and the intestines work their way up into the esophagus, a condition called gastroesophageal reflux. This causes discomfort to the dog and is potentially dangerous because these acids can cause irritation and inflammation of the esophagus. The continued presence of acids in the esophagus leads to ulcers, narrowing, thinning, or necrosis of the tissues. Here are the main symptoms of acid reflux in dogs:

  • Making burping, gurgling, or gagging noises
  • Vomiting after meals, even in small quantities
  • Bad breath
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss
  • Whining or even howling during or after a meal
  • Lethargy after eating
  • Fever or excessive salivating

Puppies are more at risk of developing acid reflux as their esophageal sphincters are not mature enough.

Why might your French Bulldog be throwing up undigested food?

A Frenchie’s distinctive head shape makes this breed prone to respiratory problems, as well as digestive issues. Besides gagging and choking, many French Bulldogs occasionally throw up undigested food. In many cases, what you’re dealing with is not actually vomiting, but regurgitation. 

Vomiting refers to food that makes its way to the stomach and then the dog throws up for a number of reasons, not necessarily because of the brachycephalic syndrome. Allergies are one of the most common causes of vomiting in Frenchies, especially in puppies. These dogs have a very delicate stomach and are prone to food allergies.

Regurgitation happens when the dog throws up food that never made it to the stomach and this is generally caused by its breathing problems or acid reflux. As the dog struggles to breathe the spasms along the trachea can cause the food to go back, which is why he ends throwing up undigested food.

How can you make a Frenchie’s food safer to eat?

Frenchies are very special dogs and it should come as no surprise that they require special food. Most dog foods on the market are not safe for your French Bulldog, but the good news is they can be safely fed a variety of human foods. For instance, when you’re having beef, chicken, turkey, or salmon you can share your meal with your Frenchie without having to worry about his health. Wheat and grains are also safe for your dog, who will benefit from the high fiber content of this sort of food. Also, rice is very good for Frenchies as it helps them with their digestive issues.

Make sure to include fruits and veggies in your French Bulldog’s diet. You can give your pooch treats such as apples, bananas, oranges, mangoes, cucumbers, carrots, sweet potatoes, or even broccoli.

One thing you need to keep in mind is that these dogs are prone to obesity, so watch out for the carbs in your dog’s diet. 

Foods you should avoid feeding your Frenchie include avocados, potatoes, grapes, tomatoes, chocolate, bones of any kind, or bread. To keep your dog healthy avoid giving him salty foods. If you want to share your meal with your furry friend, make sure to set aside his portion before seasoning your food. 

If you do buy commercial dog food check the labels carefully and stay away from products containing preservatives, cheap fillers, or excessive protein content. Look for foods which include whole meats, plant-based proteins, and healthy Omega-3 fats.

It’s a sad thing that the flat face that made Frenchies so popular is causing them so many health issues, but there are several ways you can help your dog. Remember to offer your dog small meals and use special bowls to make them eat slower, reducing the risk of choking. If your dog has serious choking problems talk to your vet and explore the option of corrective surgery.

Even if your pet doesn’t have major feeding issues, always keep in mind French Bulldogs are prone to acid reflux and food allergies, so they require a special diet. Instead of feeding them commercial food, the safer option is to give them homemade foods. Not everything you eat is safe for your dog, but there are plenty of options and you can have a lot of fun together at mealtime.