In spite of our best efforts, there is always a slim chance that our pets will meet with a life-threatening medical emergency. Whether your pet suffers as a result of an accident or is experiencing symptoms of a preexisting medical condition, when an animal stops breathing it is essential that sufficient medical care be administered immediately.
One of the most critical tools in the effort to protect your pet is the knowledge of simple pet health issues and procedures. Knowing Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR), for example, can mean the difference between a minor scare and the untimely demise of your pet. If you value your pet's life then it's absolutely imperative that you learn how to perform this procedure as soon as possible.
This knowledge entails an understanding of when to use the technique, how to perform it properly, and what steps should be taken as your pet recovers. For those that already know how to perform CPR on humans, this process should come as a natural adaptation to apply the procedure to animals; however, this guide aims to be completely comprehensive. We hope that reading through this article can help prepare you even the worst circumstances.
Know the Process
There are a variety of problems that can cause a pet to become unconscious and even more which can prevent your pet from breathing. Before using CPR on your pet, it's essential to ensure that the technique is necessary by assessing your pet's condition. CPR should only be used when your pet has no pulse and it has been verified that his airway is unobstructed.
CPR is intended to reset the heart when it has stopped beating, meaning that it is inappropriate and even dangerous to perform CPR on an animal with a regular heartbeat. If your pet has stopped breathing then its pulse will eventually stop- but until it has actually stopped you should limit your care to artificial respiration, which entails breathing into your pet's mouth until the lungs resume normal function.
Artificial respiration can sometimes prevent the need for CPR by keeping your pet's pulse intact until normal breathing resumes; although, CPR itself utilizes artificial respiration in addition to chest compression. In any event, learning artificial respiration is necessary to ensure the safety of your pet.
Preparing Pets for Rescue
As previously stated, the first thing anyone should do before providing care to an incapacitated pet is check their vital signs. Check to see if your pet is breathing by placing your hands on his chest and near his mouth. If the chest is still and no air is being passed through either the nose or the mouth then your pet is in serious danger. Before proceeding with artificial respiration check to see if he still has a pulse and call your veterinarian or an emergency animal hospital to inform them of the situation with the aim of getting him to a veterinarian or hospital as soon as possible.
To check your pet's pulse, place him in recovery position so that he is on one side of his body with the heart on the upward facing side. To locate the pulse, press the elbow of your pet's foreleg against his chest. The point where the elbow and chest contact should be the approximate location of his heart. While you can generally find the pulse this way, for obese pets it can be easier to check the pulse point on a leg. Simply run your finger along their paw pad and a pulse should be detectable. It's recommended that you practice finding the pulse of your pet while he is healthy and conscious in order to ensure that you know how to do so before an emergency requires it.
If your pet has a pulse but is not breathing, check to ensure that their airway is clear before proceeding with artificial respiration. You can do this by opening his mouth, pulling his tongue forward, and tilting his head back to ensure that there are no visible obstructions. It is also useful to verify that your pet's chest moves when you begin this next step such that the air is definitely entering his body.
If the airway is obstructed, it's necessary to remove the obstruction before proceeding. If the object blocking the airway is in the mouth, it can be safe to remove the object with a finger but will also require that your then check that the totality of the obstruction has been removed. If the airway is still obstructed then it's necessary to perform the heimlich maneuver. For smaller pets, lift the animal up by the thighs and gently shake it. Placing the pet on your leg and gently striking can also help dislodge an object.
For larger pets that cannot be easily lifted, there are two ways to perform the maneuver depending on the animal's condition. If your pet is standing and choking, simply place your arms around his belly while making a fist with one hand and holding it in the other. Press firmly just below his rib cage with a forward motion until the obstruction is dislodged and then place him in the recovery position.
If your large pet is not standing then place him in the recovery position. Put a hand on his back to hold his body steady while using your opposite hand to compress his abdomen. Attempt to squeeze the abdomen in such a way as to push towards their mouth so that any obstruction can be coughed out. Remember to always ensure that all obstructions have been totally cleared from your pet's airway even after performing this maneuver.
With all obstructions clear, begin artificial respiration by closing your pet's mouth securely so that it will prevent the escape of any air. For smaller dogs and cats, it's possible to place your mouth over both the mouth and nose- but for larger dogs it will be necessary to breathe directly into the nostrils while keeping the mouth totally shut.
When breathing into your pet's mouth or nose, blow 4-5 quick breaths while ensuring that his chest rises. Pause for 2-3 seconds after this process to allow your pet to exhale naturally. After this brief pause, resume blowing air into his mouth with the same 4-5 short breaths and continue to repeat the entire process until normal breathing resumes.
This process can take as long as an hour and can be particularly exhausting, which is why it's important to call a veterinarian before beginning. If you are able to get your pet to a veterinarian or animal hospital, they can insert an oxygen tube into his airway to perform this process mechanically.
If your pet has no pulse then artificial respiration is no longer adequate to keep your pet alive. Your pet's heart has stopped beating and needs to start again as soon as possible. This is the purpose of the compressions used in CPR. These compressions are best performed with your pet in the same recovery position used for artificial respiration.
With your pet in position, begin CPR by placing your hands on the part of your dog's chest that faces up, where the heart is located, and interlace your fingers so that both hands are on top of the heart. Firmly press down on the chest until it is compressed by up to 3 inches (less for smaller pets). These compressions are known to break ribs but are essential to restarting the heart, so they should be firm but as gentle as possible. Perform 15 of these compressions at a steady rate for ten seconds. At this point, return to artificial respiration for a single breath.
After administering a rescue breath to your pet, slip your left hand under their front leg and squeeze the abdomen to help recirculate blood to the heart. Once this simple squeeze has been performed, return to regular chest compressions to begin the cycle again. This process repeats with 15 compressions, followed by a rescue breath (4 to 5 quick breaths), and then a squeeze until the heart begins to pump normally or emergency assistance arrives.
To further solidify your knowledge of this process, it's recommended you take a course offered by the American Red Cross. You can also watch the video below, which demonstrates the proper technique for performing CPR on a pet. We hope that this article has helped you learn a life-saving skill and that you spread awareness of this simple technique by sharing this article with other pet owners like yourself.
Please leave a comment below if you have any questions or concerns with this guide and check out these other guides to pet safety: