Do you know what to do if your dog stops breathing? Knowing a few emergency procedures if your dog is choking, or having difficulty breathing, could save your dog's life because you may not have time to get to a vet.
If your dog has a foreign object stuck in his throat, it is important to try and dislodge it before performing CPR. Read our article: Heimlich Maneuver for dogs.
CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) preserves brain function until proper blood circulation and breathing can be restored.
The signs that indicate the need for CPR include unconsciousness, lack of arousal, lack of physical movement, or eye blinking. These symptoms can occur from drowning, choking, electrical shock, or a number of other situations.
The following information has been updated with latest recommended guidelines outlined by the first evidence-based research on how best to resuscitate dogs and cats in cardiac arrest published in June 2012 by the Reassessment Campaign on Veterinary Resuscitation (RECOVER). The study recommends a few updates to current manual CPR practices on dogs:
- Perform 100-120 chest compressions per minute
- Perform a compression to mouth-to-snout ventilation ratio of 30 compressions followed by 2 breaths
- Recommendations on how best to perform cardiac massage / chest compressions on different chest types and sizes of dogs (see diagrams below).
The key to canine CPR is remembering the ABCs:
To perform the three techniques, follow these steps.
- Lay the dog on a flat surface and extend the head back to create an airway. (Current practices recommend laying the dog on his/her right side (heart facing up), however the latest recommended guidelines state that either the left or right lateral recumbency are acceptable.)
- Open the jaws to check for obstructions, and if any exist and are not easily removed, try to dislodge the object. See our article Heimlich Maneuever for dogs for details on how to dislodge a dog's blocked airway safely.
- Cup your hands around the muzzle of the dog's mouth so that only the nostrils are clear. Blow air into the nostrils with five or six quick breaths, again, depending on the size of the dog. Small dogs and puppies and require short and shallow breaths. Larger dogs need longer and deeper breaths. Continue the quick breaths at a rate of one breath every three seconds or 20 breaths per minute.
- Check for a heartbeat by using your finger on the inside of the thigh, just above the knee. If you don't feel a pulse, put your hand over the dog's chest cavity where the elbow touches the middle of the chest. If you still don't find a pulse, have one person continue breathing into the nostrils (mouth to snout), while another gives chest compressions / cardiac massage. If you are alone, do the compression and mouth-to-snout ventilation yourself.
- Give the dog chest compressions (cardiac massage) by placing both hands palms down on the chest cavity of the dog. For most dogs, chest compressions can be performed on the widest part of the chest while the dog is lying on his side.
- For dogs with keel-shaped chests (i.e. deep, narrow chests) in breeds such as greyhounds push down closer to the dog's armpit, directly over the heart.
- For dogs with barrel-chested dogs like English bulldogs lay the dog on its back and compress on the sternum (directly over the heart), like people.
- For smaller dogs (and cats) chest-compressions scan be done with one hand wrapped around the sternum, encircling the heart or two-handed on the ribs.
- For large dogs, place your hands on top of each other. For small dogs or puppies, place one hand or thumb on the chest.
- Use the heel of your hand(s) to push down for 30 quick compressions followed by 2 breaths of air (ventilation) and then check to see if consciousness has been restored. If consciousness has not been restored, continue the compressions in cycles of 100 to 120 chest compressions per minute (the same rhythm administered for people).
- Perform CPR in 2-minute cycles checking to see if breathing and consciousness has been restored.
Ideally, CPR is performed while on route to emergency veterinarian care. If this is not possible, contact a veterinarian once the dog has started breathing.
The following diagrams illustrates how to perform chest compressions on dogs with different chest types. Click on an image to see a larger version. Figure (A) illustrates the technique for most dogs. You can apply chest compressions to the widest part of the chest while the dog lies on its side. Figure (B) illustrates the technique for dogs with keel-shaped chests. Figure (C) illustrates the technique for barrel-chested dogs.
For small dogs and cats chest compressions can be administered two ways. Click on the images to see a larger version. Figure (A) illustrates wrapping one hand around the sternum while supporting the back. Figure (B) illustrates two-handed compression.
Below is a video on administering CPR on dogs. Note: The instructional video below recommends a compression to ventilation ratio of 15 compressions followed by 1 breath. The June 2012 study recommends a compression to ventilation ratio of 30 compressions followed by 2 breaths.
In the video below, Ron Pace saves the life of a Boxer named Sugar using CPR.
Ron writes, "Canyon Crest K9 Training Center owner, Ron Pace, saves the life of a boxer with CPR during a regular training session. During the session, the dog went into a seizure. As he stopped breathing and Lay-ed down Ron handed his assistant his Iphone with the video on and said to capture this so a veterinarian can see what happened. At that point he said to the handler move your hand so I can see if he is breathing and she said he is not. Ron immediately applied CPR. Sugar had stopped breathing for 2 minutes. He finally regained consciousness. Once the dog was resuscitated, the owner took him to the vet. It was later found out Sugar has Cardiomyopathy. We believe it's not just a coincidence that this dog's name happened to be SUGAR and his life was saved. Ron Pace has dedicated himself to training diabetic alert dogs to alert their owners to dangerous blood SUGAR levels."
Journal of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care 22. Reassessment Campaign on Veterinary Resuscitation: Evidence and Knowledge Gap Analysis on Veterinary CPR published June 2012.
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