If you are a dog owner, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that someday your dog may fall into a situation that is or could become life-threatening. Dogs have heart attacks, they choke on foreign objects, and they get injured, just like people do. When this happens, it can be stressful and frightening. This is even more true if your dog is not responding to stimuli.
However, if you’re armed with the knowledge to recognize when your dog is in severe distress, and if you possess the skills to spring into action and treat your dog with lifesaving measures, not only will that help to calm you down, it will also increase the survival chances your dog has tenfold.
Dogs that are unresponsive or that are struggling severely can benefit from your knowledge of the two procedures we will review in this article. These are procedures that could save a life. These two procedures are CPR for dogs and artificial respiration for dogs, also referred to rescue breathing.
CPR on a dog is actually a combination of both artificial respiration and chest compressions. CPR is performed only when a heartbeat can’t be found. If there is a heartbeat that is steady and stable, CPR isn’t necessary.
Artificial respiration may be used before this point if your dog is struggling to breathe, but once your dog stops breathing, their heart will suffer from the lack of oxygen. This lack of oxygen makes the heart work harder and it will trigger cardiac arrest. When a dog experiences cardiac arrest, their heartbeat stops, and CPR becomes necessary to keep them alive.
Note that performing CPR on a dog can be dangerous if the dog is healthy. Never do that, not even as practice. It is a procedure that should only be used when absolutely necessary, otherwise, physical complications and fatal damage could occur.
Assess Your Dog
The first step in performing CPR on a dog is to evaluate his current state. You have to know what is going on before you can proceed with steps to address the issue. The first thing to determine is whether or not your dog is breathing.
Use the back of your hand or your cheek and hold it close to their nose. The skin there is sensitive, and you should be able to feel whether air is moving. Also note whether or not their chest is rising and falling.
If your dog doesn’t appear to be breathing, you will need to check his airway. There could be a blockage hindering the airflow that is causing your dog to choke. You can do this by pulling your dog’s tongue forward as far as possible and getting a visual inside their throat and mouth. If you see any objects or liquids that could be blocking his airway, carefully remove them. Just remember to be gentle if there is a foreign object or you could cause significant damage to the soft tissue of his throat, as well as potentially cause damage to the small throat bones located in their throat.
The next thing you will want to assess is whether or not your dog has a pulse. The easiest spot to check a dog’s pulse is by palpating and feeling for the pulse in their moral artery. You can find the femoral artery on their inner thigh. Use your hand and run it alongside the inside of your dogs’ hind leg until you are close to where the body and the leg join.
If you’re in the right spot, you should feel a bit of a dip where the femoral artery is located, close to the skin. Using your fingers, you’ll want to press gently to feel whether or not they have a pulse. Don’t use your thumb only your fingers, or you won’t be able to accurately assess them.
Sometimes you may not be able to feel your dog’s pulse along the femoral artery. When that happens, you can try to feel right above the large center pad of your canines’ paw, called the metacarpal pad. You can also place your fingers right on top of your dog’s heart and feel for a heartbeat that way.
Note that to find your dog’s heartbeat above the heart, you will want to lay your dog down on their right side and gently bend your dog’s left leg. Bend until your dog’s elbow touches their chest. Right at that intersection point is where your dog’s heart is located, just to the left side of their chest.
Once you assess your dog, if he has a pulse but he is not breathing, you will need to give him artificial respirations to keep his oxygen flowing. However, if he doesn’t have a pulse that you can detect, CPR will be necessary. Again, CPR is a combination of procedures using chest compressions and artificial respirations.
Steps for CPR for a Dog
Here are the steps to perform CPR for dogs. Remember that CPR should never be performed on a dog that is healthy as it can cause grave harm to them. If your dog resists or shows any signs of resisting when you attempt to give him CPR, reassess his condition, as he may not need it after all.
Get your dog in a proper position to treat him. You’ll want to lay him down on a flat, stable surface on their right side. Straighten his neck and head to the best of your ability in order to clear his airway and allow a direct flow of air.
Use your fingers to open his mouth and pull his tongue forward. The tongue should rest against the back of his teeth. Then shut his mouth and position yourself behind them.
You will need to find where his heart is, then get ready to give him compressions. You can do this by putting your palms on top of each other on your dog’s rib cage at the widest area, near his heart but not over the top of it.
If your dog is small and weighs less than 30 pounds, modify your technique by cupping your hands around his rib cage, and then on one side of the chest place your fingers and on the other side place your thumb.
Start giving your dog chest compressions. You can do this by pushing down on your dog’s rib cage with quick, firm compressions while keeping both elbows straight. You only want to compress about a quarter or third of the width of your dog’s chest. Compressions should be repeated quickly, with roughly 15 compressions every 10 seconds.
You can modify your technique for smaller dogs by using your fingers and thumb to squeeze their chest instead of compressing with both hands. Again, you would only squeeze to about a quarter or a third of the width of the dog’s chest. You want to do this at a pace that is slightly faster than what you would use for bigger dogs. A good rule of thumb to shoot for is 17 compressions per every 10 seconds.
To perform artificial respirations on a dog, you will want to give them respirations after every 15 compressions. If you are not giving your dog CPR and you’re only giving them artificial respiration, you can follow the same steps but only give them one breath every two or three seconds, keeping a steady rate at 20 to 30 breaths a minute.
If you are doing CPR however, you will want to start by first sealing your dog’s lips. You can do this by putting your hand over your dog’s muzzle and gently press his mouth closed. Don’t squeeze too tight, just enough for the lips to be sealed. You want to make sure their mouth is closed completely with no way for air to escape.
The next step is to place your mouth right over the dogs. You’ll want to blow gently into your dog’s nose by putting your mouth right over their nostrils. You need to watch their chest to see if it’s working. If it is, you should see their chest rise and expand. If their chest doesn’t rise, you’ll need to try blowing harder. Also, double check that your dog’s mouth is sealed completely.
If you have a smaller dog, you’ll need to cover their muzzle entirely with your mouth and blow gently. In between breaths, remove your mouth from their nose so that air can return. For every 15 compressions, you should give your dog 1 breath of air. If you have two people there to work on the dog, you can split duties and have one person perform compressions and the second person can give the dog artificial respiration at a rate of 1 breath per 5 compressions.
Squeeze your dog’s abdomen. Squeezing your dog’s abdomen helps to get your dog’s blood circulating back into their heart. You can do this by putting your left hand beneath your dog’s stomach and your right hand on the top of their stomach. Push down to give them a squeeze. You’ll want to do an abdominal squeeze after every 15 compressions and 1 breath.
Repeat this cycle. You’ll need to continue repeating these steps until your dog begins breathing and has a pulse that is steady. If your dog does not begin breathing within twenty minutes, you may have to stop CPR. At this point, sadly, revival of your pet will not be likely.
Some Things to Keep in Mind When Performing CPR on a Dog
CPR should never be performed on a dog that is healthy. The procedure is very intense and can injure your dog further. CPR for dogs can cause a pneumothorax or collapse the lung, plus it can result in broken ribs and additional stress on your dog’s body.
However, if your dog is in real distress, keep in mind that these injuries are all very treatable, so you should never stop CPR if your dog is truly in a life-threatening situation. If you’re concerned about the physical toll on your dog’s ribs, you can adjust your technique and try using softer compressions to help mitigate any damage.
Tips for Performing Doggie CPR
Remember that knowledge is power and knowing what to do and when to do it helps to keep you calm in a stressful situation and will help to keep your dog calm as well. With that in mind, you should practice some of the steps of CPR on a regular basis, just don’t give the dog any respirations or compressions.
You can do this by practicing looking for your dog’s heartbeat and finding their pulse in different locations. You can also practice checking for breath, and practice opening and closing their muzzle, and pulling on their tongue to open the airway, so they get used to you messing around their mouth.
Then, if it ever becomes necessary and they are still conscious and aware, the odds of them relaxing and allowing you to help them increase significantly.
Also, never forget that CPR for dogs is very taxing on a canine’s body. The ideal situation is to get them to an emergency vet clinic as soon as possible. When it isn’t possible to get them there quickly, simply knowing how to perform these lifesaving measures can mean the difference between your dog surviving a long car ride to the clinic and dying on the way.