Dog CPR: How to administer first aid to man’s best friend

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Thanks to TV, films and social media most people will have seen CPR in action, whether that be on a beach in Baywatch, in Holby City’s casualty department or even performed by Vinnie Jones for the British Heart Foundation.

CPR for humans has rapidly moved from a specialist medical procedure to a life saving technique known widely across society. Volunteer networks and charities such as the British Red Cross and Millie’s Trust have made it their goal to teach as many people as possible and prepare them should the worst occur, and as a healthcare company we are 100% behind this.

However, what if your four-legged friend needs the same urgent help? Would you know where to begin, and could you help them? They have never taught us this on Lassie or Scooby Doo, and Bouncer was never administered CPR on Neighbours. So, if your dog collapses should you administer CPR, and is it possible to save its life?

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How would you know if CPR was the right option?

Animals obviously have different anatomy and physiology, so a simple transfer of human CPR is not a good idea. Obviously the first thing to do is contact an emergency vet straight away, letting them know exactly what has happened. If the dog has collapsed from poisoning, resuscitation may not be very successful. However, if CPR is needed now and the vet is far away, it is your only option to save your furry friend.

You will need to be sure that your dog is suffering from cardiopulmonary arrest (CPA) before you start CPR. If this is the case, it will be unconscious, with no pulse or heartbeat and not breathing. To check this as quickly as possible just think A-B-C, Airway – Breathing – Circulation.

So, firstly check the airway, extend the dogs head and neck, is it clear? If not, grasp the tongue and pull it outward, then remove the obstruction by simply reaching in if possible. If not try pushing either side of the object through the dog’s skin. You can also perform the Heimlich manoeuvre on big dogs (which is similar to the human method), with smaller dogs you can hold them up by their hind legs to dislodge the object.

Has the dog stopped breathing? The best way to check is to watch and feel for a rise and fall of its chest. Finally look at the gums, they will turn blue from a lack of oxygen. If CPR is needed, then begin straight away as this could save the dog’s life.

How to perform CPR on a dog

As with humans there are differing techniques depending on size, just as you wouldn’t use the same forced compressions on a baby as you would a man, you wouldn’t do the same for a Chihuahua as you would a Great Dane.

If your dog becomes unconscious, Respiratory Arrest may occur, and this will usually lead to Cardiac Arrest. However, in respiratory arrest the heart may continue to beat for several minutes after the breathing has stopped. You must begin Artificial Respiration (Rescue Breathing) to save your dog’s life. If however, the heart stops, then full CPR is needed.

Artificial Respiration – if the dog isn’t breathing but heart is beating

  1. On a flat surface, lay the dog down on its right side.
  2. Lift the chin and straighten the throat to fully open the airway.
  3. Using one hand grasp your dog’s snout and hold its mouth shut.
  4. Put your mouth completely over both nostrils and create a seal, then blow until you see its chest expand. The force will obviously differ between smaller and larger dogs.
  5. Wait for the air to leave the lungs before breathing again, continue giving 20 breaths per minute (1 every 3 seconds), until the dog begins to breathe for itself or for as long as it’s heart is still beating.

If, however your dog’s heart stops beating, then you must administer CPR immediately.

CPR – if the dog isn’t breathing and its heart has stopped beating

For puppies and dogs weighing under 30 pounds

  1. With the dog lay down on its right side on a flat surface, cup your hands around the dog’s chest, holding the dog on either side just above the heart region, alternatively place your thumb on one side of the chest and fingers on the other side.
  2. Now compress the chest by 1 inch, at a rate of 100 compressions per minute. Or, as it has become easier to remember, at the tempo of the Bee Gees song Stayin’ Alive.
  3. If only one person is available, breathe into the nose once every 5 compressions. However, if there are two people available, take a task each and breathe once for every 3 compressions done.
  4. Keep going until your dog begins to breathe on its own and its pulse becomes steady.

For medium and large dogs weighing over 30 pounds

  1. With the dog lay down on its right side on a flat surface, put one of your palms on the dog’s rib cage, near the heart and put your other palm over it.
  2. Without bending at the elbow, push the rib cage in a downward motion compressing the chest by a 1/4 to a 1/3 of the dog’s chest, at a rate of 80 compressions per minute.
  3. If only one person is available, breathe into the dog’s nose once every 5 compressions. However, if there are 2 people available, breathe once for every 2 compressions completed.
  4. Continue until it begins to breathe on its own and its pulse steadies.

If the CPR has been successful, you must still take your dog to the emergency vet and let them know exactly what has happened for follow up care.

As well as human first aid courses, many companies now have first aid courses for pets in which you can have hands-on practice learning these techniques with life-sized dog manikins.