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I read somewhere (I think it was Bill Bryson's book on the origins of the English language) that of all animals, we are the only ones that can choke on food (having something to do with how our larynx is positioned). I'm unable to find reference to this fact online however, and am curious if this is just my having misunderstood something (or Bill having led me astray!).

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3 Answers 3

up vote 5 down vote accepted

From the Smithsonian website:

Humans are the only mammal that cannot breathe and swallow at the same time, and we are the only species that can choke on its own food. The reason? The lowering of the voice box in our throats (during infancy) enables us to create the enormous range of sounds used in producing language; but this lowering of the voice box comes at a big cost in adulthood.


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The veterinarian in our group offers this: For humans, who choke much more frequently than other mammals, it is likely to be a cognitive problem. We talk and eat at the same time and so give ample opportunity to allow food passed the epiglottis and choking. Animals do choke - dogs can, cats can. Not all animals can vomit and this is particularly a problem for horses, whose stomachs will rupture instead of releasing contents through the mouth.

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YIKES, didn't know that about the horses. Interesting –  Gabriel Fair Apr 3 '12 at 3:46
This is rather late, but would it be possible to add some citations? –  March Ho Dec 30 '14 at 11:16

I don't agree with the accepted answer which seem to assume that food is chewed. I don't think that can be assumed if generally talking about animals and choking.

So in addition to Larry's statement of dogs and cats:

Fish regularly chokes on prey.

enter image description here

Birds can choke. enter image description here

Even dolphins choke: enter image description here

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