We love our pets wholeheartedly and have a responsibility to keep our furry friends safe. Knowing what to do in an emergency is an important part of being a pet owner, and having an action plan when danger arises could save an animal’s life. We’ve pulled together a list of things to know when administering animal CPR and strongly encourage seeking veterinary care as soon as possible when your pet is in need of emergency attention.
Basic CPR is as easy as A-B-C: Airway – Breathing – Circulation.
NOTE: In the case of primary cardiac arrest where the animal may have a heart condition, it may be advisable to start with chest compressions first. Primary cardiac arrest is often linked to heart disease and can be recognized by a sudden, unexpected, witnessed (either seen or heard) collapse in an animal that is no longer responsive. Chest compressions plus breaths are most helpful for animals suffering from respiratory arrest due to drowning or poisoning.
Let’s break this down…
- Lie your pet on his side – typically with the right side on the ground so the left side of the body is facing upwards.
- Make sure the surface underneath is free of any hazards, debris and is fairly firm.
- Do not overextend the neck.
- Using your index finger, perform a ‘sweep’ of the back of the throat to ensure there is no foreign body causing your pet to choke, and to clear any obvious fluid or material from the airway.
- Pull the tongue forward to meet the front teeth to ensure it doesn’t fold back into the throat and block the airway.
- If your dog is not breathing, you can close his mouth and breathe into his nostrils to try to inflate his lungs (mouth-to-snout breathing technique).
- Exhale into the nostrils forcefully enough to see his chest rise.
- Let your dog exhale the breath passively before giving him another breath into his nostrils.
- Typically 10 breaths per minute, or if you’re doing it with chest compressions concurrently, aim for 2 breaths after every 30 chest compressions.
- Most dogs who stop breathing (we call this respiratory arrest) will need much more than just an owner breathing into their nostrils so proceed ASAP to a veterinary emergency clinic since they will require further breathing support and ventilation with a tube down their airway (called endotracheal intubation) and oxygen administration.
- Chest compressions are meant to simulate a heartbeat, to help blood pump around the body when the heart has stopped.
- Current guidelines recommend 100 – 120 chest compressions per minute. This might not sound like a lot but it can be physically exhausting for the person performing it.
- Chest compressions should compress the chest by no more than ⅓ to ½ of the width of the chest, when performing on a patient lying on their side.
- The chest compression technique will vary depending on the size of your pet.
While mouth to snout breathing support is similar regardless of the size of your pet, there is a difference in technique for chest compressions.
Medium – Large Dogs
For medium-large dogs, chest compressions are typically performed in lateral recumbency (ie with the dog laying on his side) and performed by pressing down, with your hands on top of each other, palms down, over the widest part of the chest.
Small Dogs and Cats
In smaller dogs and cats, we use what’s called a ‘circumferential’ technique, where the rescuer places two hands around the chest with the thumbs meeting over the sternum (the lowest part of the chest where the ribs meet). There are also reports of different techniques as well for tiny puppies and kittens, and for some barrel-chested dogs.
The efficacy of CPR depends on countless factors: the underlying reason a pet stopped breathing in the first place, the overall health of the animal, how quickly CPR was initiated, whether the pet was already in a hospital setting at the time, how extensive the CPR efforts were and many other factors. The faster arrest is recognized and the faster CPR is initiated, the more likely we are to have a positive outcome. When in doubt, proceed DIRECTLY to an emergency veterinary facility to give your fur baby the best possible care it needs.
As with any medical intervention, we have to weigh risks versus benefits. The potential life-saving benefits of CPR outweigh its risks, but we still need to be mindful of what might happen, especially when CPR is delivered outside of a veterinary hospital setting.
Intense chest compressions can lead to rib fractures, lung bruises or lacerations, air in the chest and collapsed lungs (called pneumothorax). Ineffective CPR efforts and unnecessary delays in seeking professional medical intervention are an often-overlooked risk.
Proper pet care means being informed of and able to take the necessary steps in case of an emergency. If you are unsure if your pet needs medical attention, proceed immediately to a veterinary clinic. There’s no harm in being too careful with our loved ones!
Responsible pet ownership means being prepared for any situation.
For further preparation, you can take a course in small animal Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR), and your vet can also walk you through what steps you should take in an emergency situation. While initial CPR efforts undertaken by a pet owner are never considered a replacement for emergency veterinary care, CPR efforts can save a life when there are no other resources available. Just make sure that you’re taking your furry friend to your closest veterinary emergency hospital where a qualified medical team can take over as quickly as possible.