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How to Save Your Pet’s Life with CPR

Reading Time: 4 MIN

You will NOT be expecting it when your pet suddenly starts choking or stops breathing for no reason. Even though this can be an unexpected and scary situation, knowing how to perform CPR on your dog or cat may mean that you could save his life in an emergency. I have been certified to perform CPR on humans many times over, but I have never been officially trained on how to perform it on my pets. For this reason, I was greatly excited to attend the CPR training by Dr. Laura Bahorich, VMD, with Memphis Veterinary Specialists (MVS). Dr. Bahorich has been working in ER medicine at MVS for 9 years and she showed Hollywood Feed employees some very important life-saving techniques. She is pictured in this post with her CPR dummy and I pulled the other pictures from her presentation!

What is CPR?

Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation, or CPR, is a life-saving measure that can be performed on both humans and animals when a cardiopulmonary arrest has occurred. The object of CPR is to manually provide blood flow and oxygen to the brain and other organs when the body cannot do this on its own. It turns out that we pet lovers who end up having to perform CPR at home are actually more successful than doctors in veterinary clinics (for a number of reasons)-but this definitely means that we should all be prepared and know what we are doing!

A white cat with pale gums.Some of the main reasons you may have to perform CPR on your dog or cat include: choking, vomiting, arrhythmia, anemia, trauma, and problems related to anesthesia. You may be able to tell that your dog or cat is going into cardiopulmonary arrest if he collapses, loses consciousness, becomes non-responsive, has a change in breathing, blood pressure, pulse or heart rate, or if you notice fixed or dilated pupils, blue gums or tongue, or low body temperature.

The ABC’s of CPR

CPR consists of two main components for non-medical professionals at home: chest compressions and rescue breathing. You can remember the proper order of steps for CPR by remembering to follow the ABC’s.

A is for Airway.

A diagram of how to open a cats airway.First, examine your pet’s airway for blockages. Make sure your pet is lying on his side, preferably the right, with his neck extended so that his airway is long and clear. Pull his tongue out of his mouth and then stick your hand in your pet’s mouth and throat, and sweep out any foreign objects or saliva. Be careful not to push a foreign object blocking your pet’s airway further inside.

B is for Breathing.

A woman demonstrating opening a dogs airway.After you have cleared your pet’s airway, make sure that he is not breathing on his own (watch for rise and fall in the chest for a few seconds only). Your pet may be able to breathe on his own again if you have cleared a blockage. If he is still not breathing, then perform mouth to snout rescue breaths by closing your pet’s mouth with your hand and then blowing into your pet’s nose, watching his lungs expand as you do so. Give a second breath after you have seen your pet’s lungs expand and deflate. You should give one breath every six seconds, or 10 breaths per minute. Make sure you are counting! Too many breaths can be harmful. Give two full breaths before you move on to the next step-chest compressions.

C is for Circulation.

A woman demonstrating CPR on a dog.Next, you should check for your pet’s heart beat or pulse. If you cannot find one, you will have to circulate blood throughout your pet’s body in place of his heart. This is where chest compressions come in. Make sure your dog or cat is lying on his (preferably right) side on a firm surface. After you give the first two rescue breath, you will perform 30 compressions and then you will repeat the 2 breaths and 30 compressions. Try doing this to the tune of Stayin’ Alive-it will help you keep the beat and help to keep you positive and focused on the goal of CPR!

A diagram of how to perform CPR on a catFor most medium to large dogs, chest compressions will look similar to those for humans. Place one hand over the other, hold your arms straight with your shoulders over elbows over wrists and make 30-50% compressions over the heart or widest portion of the chest. With a barrel chested dog, you will want to place the dog on his back and do compressions over the sternum. With cats and small dogs, you will use two hands to cup their chest and perform compressions by squeezing your hands closed.

It’s best if you have a partner to perform CPR with, but it can be done by oneself if necessary. If you have a partner, you will want to trade off doing chest compressions because this can be the more strenuous part of CPR.

When Should I Stop CPR?

You will continue to perform CPR until one of the following things occurs: You become too physically exhausted to perform CPR anymore, a medical professional or other qualified CPR performer takes over, until you find a strong and regular heartbeat or pulse in your pet, or if you have performed CPR for ten minutes with no signs of life.

If your dog does become responsive after you perform CPR, watch his breathing and heart rate very closely and get him to your veterinarian right away so that he can be stabilized and examined for causes of the cardiopulmonary arrest.

A pet who has just been resuscitated is more likely to stop breathing again, and rescue breaths may need to be performed even after you detect a heartbeat in your pet and you stop chest compressions.

***This blog is not a substitute for veterinary care!

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