How to give dog CPR properly
Cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) in humans has moved from being a specialist medical procedure to a technique that’s widely known across society. If someone collapses, and they’re unresponsive and not breathing, most people know that they may be having a heart attack and that CPR should be carried out until medical help arrives.
But what about in dogs? If a dog collapses, should CPR be carried out? And if so, how should it be done? Can CPR save dogs’ lives?
There are plenty of examples of humans trying to rescue animals with CPR (a woman in Glasgow recently tried to save the life of a pigeon with mouth-to-mouth resuscitation), but most of these heroic efforts are based on naive adaptations of human-based procedures. Animals are very different to us, in anatomy and physiology. It’s important that when trying to save a life, the right actions are taken, and as in any emergency, there’s no time to stop to google it: you need to know the basics beforehand.
How do you know if a dog needs CPR?
Cardio-pulmonary arrest (CPA) is an important differential diagnosis for any animal that exhibits three key signs:
- Lack of breathing
- Absence of a pulse or heart beat
It can be surprisingly difficult to evaluate these three signs, and the simplest way is to do three other rapid checks, based on the ABC acronym:
It should take no more than 10 – 15 seconds to complete this assessment. If the airway is clear, breathing has ceased, and the colour of the dog’s gums is not a healthy pink colour (indicating that the circulation is not functioning normally), then it’s likely CPA has occurred, and immediate CPR is needed.
If the airway is not clear (check this by opening the dog’s mouth and peering to the back of the throat), then obviously you have to remove the obstruction (see below).
The main reason for CPR being started immediately in any suspected case is that if it’s done for a patient with CPA, it can be genuinely life saving, while if it’s done on an unresponsive patient that does not have CPA, the risk of causing harm is minimal.
The basic principle of CPR goes back to the acronym used in the initial assessment: Airway, Breathing, Circulation (ABC), although circulation should be addressed first, rather than last. This means apply chest compressions as the first, most urgent action. Ventilation is a waste of time if there is no cardiac output, and studies have shown that the longer chest compressions are delayed, the worse the outcome.
How do you apply chest compressions to animals?
There are two goals of chest compressions in animals
- Getting blood flowing into the lungs to get oxygen into the blood and to eliminate carbon dioxide from the blood.
- Getting blood flowing to all vital organs to restore the cellular metabolism.
The above aims are achieved by chest compression in two ways;
- By direct compression of the heart itself, causing its chambers to contract and expand
- By stimulating blood flow around the chest via to the changed overall pressures inside the thorax via chest compressions
Chest compressions should be done with the animal lying on their side, aiming to compress the chest to 1/3–½ of its width, at a rate of 100–120 compressions per minute. This basic rule applies to all species, and all sizes of animal, from dogs to cats to pigeons. The well-known tip of using the tempo of the BeeGees song “Staying Alive” applies to animal CPR as much as to humans. It’s important to pull back after each press to let the chest rebound fully, rather than keeping the chest in the compressed position.
Watch our video, come and join one of our online or practical courses, or read our book to learn the very best way to save your pet in an emergency.
First Aid for Pets provides this information for guidance and it is not in any way a substitute for veterinary advice. The author does not accept any liability or responsibility for any inaccuracies or for any mistreatment or misdiagnosis of any person or animal, however caused. It is strongly advised that you attend a practical First Aid for Pets course to understand what to do in a medical emergency.