What is shock and why does it occur?
Shock is a lack of oxygen to the tissues of the body, usually caused by a fall in blood volume or blood pressure.
Shock occurs as a result of the body’s circulatory system failing to work properly, which means that the tissues and organs of the body, including the heart and the brain, struggle to get sufficient oxygen. The body’s response to this is to shut down the circulation to the skin, the heart speeds up as it tries to get sufficient blood supply and oxygen around the body and blood supply is drawn away from the gut to prioritise vital organs; which causes the animal to feel sick and thirsty and can lead to collapse.
Shock results from major drop in blood pressure and is serious.
Most Common Types of Shock
- Hypovolaemic– the body loses fluid, such as with major bleeds (internal and external), burns, diarrhoea and vomiting.
- Cardiogenic– heart attack i.e. the heart is not pumping effectively.
- Anaphylactic– the body reacts to something, releasing large amounts of Histamine and other hormones. These dilate the blood vessels and cause them to leak fluid, causing swelling of the airways and leading to a triple whammy of shock.
- Extremes of temperature.
- Major assault on the nervous system such as a spinal or brain injury.
Signs and Symptoms of Shock
- Rapid pulse
- Pale, cold and clammy
As shock develops:
- Grey-blue skin colour and blue tinge to the mucous membranes (i.e. they are cyanosed)
- Weak and dizzy
- Nausea and vomiting
- Shallow, rapid breathing
As the brain is struggling for oxygen:
- May become restless and possibly aggressive
- Yawning and gasping for air
- Eventually they will lose consciousness and become unresponsive
- Finally, they will stop breathing
Treatment for shock
1. Call the vet immediately.
2. Lie the animal on their right hand side.
3. Put a folded blanket under their lower back to raise it. This encourages blood to flow to their heart and brain.
4. Cover them with a blanket to keep them warm.
Shock is made worse when an animal is cold, anxious or in pain. Reassuring them and keeping them warm can make a real difference.
Do not give them anything to eat or drink. They may need an operation and general anaesthetics are safer on an empty stomach.
Written by Emma Hammett for First Aid for Life
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First Aid for Pets provides this information for guidance. 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.