“How To Save a Dog’s Life”
Of all the things great dog parents remember to do and are vigilant about (buying treats, getting vaccinations, going on walks, offering unconditional love), many of us are forgetful of something crucial.
Mammals as they are, dogs also face potential health emergencies. Imagine you come home to find your dog lying unresponsive on the floor because he has just suffered a heart attack. Or, what if on a walk one day through the city, your dog picks up something into her mouth and ends up choking on it. What do you do?! Has the thought ever crossed your mind that your dog can choke? Can have heart attacks? But of course they can! In these situations, we should be as prepared as we would be if our pups were our children (they are, after all, aren’t they?). It’s time to learn canine CPR, or “CPCR”.
In the event your dog needs CPCR—he is being unresponsive with unblinking eyes, he is unconscious, he collapses, he is simply obviously not okay and not moving (see more thorough list at end of article)—these are the necessary rescue steps, as advocated by Dr. Justine Lee, a board-certified emergency critical care veterinary specialist and current Associate Director of Veterinary Services for the Pet Poison Hotline:
1. Lay your dog flat lying on its right side, moving its head back to ensure its airway is open.
2. Open its mouth and search for any physical obstructions that may be preventing air flow. You may not be able to remove them easily. If you can, get em outta there! If you cannot, and your dog is small, hold it upside down by the back and shake. If your dog is larger and you cannot simply lift it up, place it on its side and try removing the obstruction with an instrument, like pliers. You may not have such tools at your disposal, as this could happen anywhere. If this is the case, try your best with your fingers.
3. Step 3 is where the canine CPR process really diverts from the human CPR process. Now, you must hold your dog’s muzzle shut with your hands, ensuring air cannot exit or enter. Breathe air into your dog’s nostrils—five or six fast, consecutive breaths (note: small dogs and puppies should get short, quick breaths. Larger dogs need longer, deeper breaths.) Breathe quick breaths into your dog’s nose at a rate of one breath every three seconds.
4. Heartbeat! Finding a heartbeat on a dog is quite different than on a human. Remember the spot to look for! Check for a heartbeat under your dog’s left or right front leg, where the elbow meets the chest.
5. If your dog does not have a pulse, it is time to give chest compressions. This involves folding your hands and pressing down on your dog’s chest 60-100 times per minute. For smaller dogs under 35 lbs, place your hands directly over its heart. For larger dogs, place your hands over its last rib. You should be pushing the chest down roughly one or two inches with each compression. You will need to alternate chest compressions with breathing through the nostrils. But the pattern differs depending on the size of your dog:
Small Dogs: 20 breaths followed by 100 compressions
Medium Dogs: 20 breaths followed by 80 compressions
Large Dogs: 20 breaths followed by 60 compressions
While this process is crucial first-hand knowledge for any pet owner, it is equally critical to have the nearest animal emergency center telephone number saved on your phone. Also, be sure to avoid having small objects within your dog’s vicinity, as we know how curious they can be with them!
Note: Dr. Lee also points out, “Most importantly, know that CPCR is often unsuccessful, no matter how hard you try. Instead, I preach on prevention instead. If you notice severe signs in your pets, bring them to a veterinarian sooner rather than later. If you get them to a veterinarian earlier, life-saving therapy like oxygen, intravenous fluids, electrolyte supplementation, etc. can be initiated sooner, hopefully negating the need for doing CPCR in the first place…”
Here is a more thorough list of signs that your dog requires medical attention, as offered by Dr. Lee:
- Restlessness and panting at night (your dog should be peacefully sleeping)
- Lethargy or malaise
- Unproductive retching (note that this can be an urgent sign of stomach bloat, requiring immediate medical and surgical attention)
- Pale gums
- Strange howling
- Dilated pupil
- Loss of appetite (if a Labrador stops eating, for example, he should be rushed immediately to your veterinarian or the nearest emergency veterinary hospital)