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Everything You Need to Know About Dog CPR

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Most of us are probably familiar with Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) in regards to humans. We may have learned about it in a middle school first-aid course or seen it on a television show. However, an accident and emergency that affects the family pooch may require a pet parent to perform dog CPR on their furry friend.

Yes, the thought of a four-legged family member being in such a scary situation can send chills down the spine, but knowing how to do CPR on a dog could be the difference between life and, well, the opposite. After all, the famous animated film taught us that all dogs do go to heaven, but we don’t want that journey to happen prematurely.

What is Dog CPR?

Dog CPR, like human CPR, is an emergency, life-saving procedure that uses artificial respirations and chest compressions to help revive a dog when they aren’t breathing or don’t have a heartbeat.

Just like their human counterparts, when a dog’s heart stops beating, or they stop breathing, it causes oxygen levels in the blood to drop in a hurry. Without oxygen, the kidney, liver, and other vital organs can fail. Once respiratory failure occurs, brain damage can also take place, so it’s crucial to act quickly and appropriately when a puppy pal is in danger.

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Different First Response Maneuvers

Under ideal circumstances, the first responder to any emergency is a medical professional who has the proper equipment, like an oxygen tank and mask, to handle the situation. However, emergencies, being what they are, rarely happen in the perfect situation and setting.

There are times when the first person on the scene of an emergency is not a firefighter or veterinarian. If you ever find yourself in the position where you are the first responder to a dog’s medical emergency, contact a veterinarian or emergency animal hospital immediately. However, it will take time to get professional help, so you may need to provide medical assistance before and during transportation of the dog to a veterinary facility.

By knowing how to do CPR on a dog, you can be better prepared for emergency situations.

Once you’ve contacted a veterinarian or animal hospital, stay calm and check the A-B-Cs: Airway, Breathing, Cardiac.

A. Make sure the dog’s airway is clear
Open the mouth and check the throat for obstructions. A throat blockage can cut off the air supply and interfere with dog CPR efforts. It’s important to make sure the airway is clear before attempting CPR on a dog.

B. Determine whether the dog is breathing
Watch the chest to see if it rises and falls. If you can’t tell if the dog is breathing based on chest movement, place your cheek near the dog’s nose to feel for airflow. Remember, a dog can be unconscious but breathing. If the dog is breathing, CPR is not necessary.

C. Check for a heartbeat
Lay the dog on their right side, push the front elbow back to the chest. The spot where the elbow touches the chest is called the intercostal space and marks where the heart is located. If you don’t see any movement in this area, place your hand over the same location and feel for a heartbeat.

Heimlich Maneuver on Dogs

If a dog is not breathing due to an obstructed airway, you may need to perform a modified version of the Heimlich maneuver. Some obstructions can be removed manually, but be careful not to lodge the object further down in the dog’s throat. Other blockages will be out of reach and require a different approach. 

To perform the Heimlich maneuver on a dog, place your hands on either side of the dog’s rib cage, and apply pressure. Once the object is removed, and, if the dog is still not breathing, you can then move forward with CPR. 

How to do CPR on a Dog

If you’ve evaluated the dog and they’re not breathing, or you can’t find a heartbeat, performing CPR is your next step. First, position the dog for rescue breathing by aligning the head with the back and then tilting it back a bit further to open the air passages. Once the dog is in proper position on a flat surface, complete the following steps:

1. Place your mouth over the airway
With small dog CPR (less than 30 pounds), you should cover both the dog’s nose and the mouth with your own mouth. On a larger dog, only place your mouth over the nose, but try to prevent air from escaping through the dog’s mouth by using one hand to hold the mouth and jaw closed while giving rescue breaths.

2. Perform artificial respiration
Blow enough air into the dog’s nose and/or mouth to cause the chest to rise, then release your lips so the air can escape. Try to produce 20 – 30 breaths per minute.

3. Begin chest compressions
Lay your hand over the heart (at the intercostal space) and press firmly enough to compress the chest about one-third to one-half its usual depth. You should aim for 10 – 12 compressions over a five-second span. Repeat these steps at a one breath to 10 – 12 compressions ratio. Because you will be doing more than 100 compressions per minute, a new person should take over compressions after two minutes.

4. Compress the abdomen in large breeds
If you’re performing CPR on a large breed, gently compress the front part of the belly or squeeze the dog’s abdomen. Performing these chest compressions can help circulate blood back to the heart. However, it’s most important to focus on the rescue breathing and compressions. Abdominal compressions should be a secondary focus.

5. Assess the dog
Check periodically to see if the dog has started breathing again – about every two minutes. If not, continue with the artificial respirations until help arrives.

dog resting head on the hand of his human

Signs Your Dog May Need Emergency Care

From choking to heatstroke, there are a number of reasons why you may need to seek emergency care for your pup. While most pet parents can tell right away when their dog is sick or injured, here are some additional signs to watch out for when determining if your canine companion needs emergency care:

  • Pale gums
  • Rapid breathing
  • Weak or elevated pulse
  • Change in body temperature
  • Trouble standing
  • Apparent paralysis
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Seizures
  • Excessive bleeding
  • Uncharacteristic aggressive behaviors

If your dog is experiencing any of these behaviors, it’s important to get them treatment without causing further harm to your pal or yourself. If you’re comfortable and capable of transporting your dog to the veterinarian, get them there as quickly and safely as possible. If your dog is distressed or agitated, it’s best to call for help to avoid any further issues.

Basic First-Aid at Home

While there is no replacement for professional veterinary care, you may be able to provide your furry friend with some assistance or relief until you’re able to get them the professional medical attention they need. Here are a few common medical issues and the appropriate first-aid treatments that you can perform at home:

  • External bleeding- Apply pressure to the wound and elevate the injury.
  • Heatstroke- Move your dog to a shaded area and place cold towels on their neck and head. You can also run cool water over their body, particularly on their abdomen, between their hind legs, and on the pads of their feet.
  • Poisoning- If your dog’s skin is exposed to hazardous materials, follow the instructions on the product’s label for treating accidental exposure. If your dog’s eyes are exposed to a hazardous material, be sure to follow any at-home decontamination treatment with a call to the vet – just to be on the safe side. If your dog actually ingests a poisonous substance, collect all relevant information, including the product in question or anything your dog may have chewed on, and get to the veterinarian immediately.
  • Seizures- Keep your dog away from any object that may cause harm, but do not restrain them. After the seizure stops, keep your dog warm and quiet.
  • Shock- Restrain your dog and keep them warm and quiet. If your dog is unconscious, keep the head level with the rest of the body.

When it comes to medical concerns and issues with your pooch, it is extremely important for your dog to see their veterinarian. Once you’re able to get the situation under control or, at the very least, can transport your dog, get them to the veterinarian for an evaluation, and, in many cases, further treatment.

Want to make your own pet first-aid kit? Check this out for what you should include and more:

Have a Plan

It’s never enjoyable to think about emergency situations, especially when they involve your dog. Still, it is a good idea to have a plan of action in case the unexpected happens. Talk to your dog’s veterinarian about what to do in the event of an emergency. While accidents are unfortunate and impossible to predict, they do happen, and it’s best to be prepared to act fast and, hopefully, see a good result come out of a bad situation.

The information presented in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute or substitute for the advice of your veterinarian.


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