April is the American Red Cross’s Pet First Aid Awareness Month. What better time to go over the basics of administering CPR to your pet?
Let me start by saying I hope my readers never need this information. No pet parent wants to think about the possibility that their pet might stop breathing and collapse. Unfortunately, the unthinkable can, and sometimes does, happen. Knowing the basics of CPR can give pet owners the confidence needed to stay calm and work the problem in a life or death situation.
One of the basic elements of pet CPR is the chest compression. I’ll get to the details in a moment, but before administering chest compressions, you must first be able to locate your pet’s heartbeat. In the spirit of preparedness, it’s a good idea to learn how to do this before an emergency strikes. When your pet is lying on her right side, the heart will be facing upward. Gently pull the front leg back, and feel for the heartbeat near what we would call the armpit. You can also find a pulse at the femoral artery, but the heartbeat is the easiest to find. This activity can easily be incorporated into routine down time with your pet. You can take your time, and your pet will simply think she is getting a massage! The more you practice, the more easily you will be able to locate your pet’s heartbeat. Be prepared. You don’t want to waste time finding it in an emergency situation when every second counts.
The ABC’s of CPR
Now let’s imagine a worst-case scenario. Fluffy has collapsed. First, call for help. If you can perform CPR while someone else drives you to the vet, you will greatly improve your pet’s chances. Next, remember your ABC’s. In addition to being very easy to remember, in rescue medicine, ABC is an acronym:
Check to see if she is breathing by watching for a rise and fall of the chest, and putting your face close to her mouth in an attempt to hear or feel any breaths. If she has indeed stopped breathing, you will need to open the Airway by lining up the head with the neck. Next, open the mouth, gently pull out the tongue, and have a look inside. You’re looking for a foreign body that might be blocking the Airway. If you see one, reach inside and pull it out. Get your hand out of the mouth quickly, as the pet may wake up startled, and frightened animals often bite. If there’s nothing there, you’ll need to start rescue Breathing. Hold the pet’s muzzle closed, put your mouth over the nose of a large dog, or the nose and mouth of a small dog or cat. Give four to five quick rescue Breaths - not too deeply, just enough to make the chest rise. Make sure the chest falls between Breaths. Check for a heartbeat, and if you don’t feel one, you’ll need to start chest Compressions.
Before beginning chest Compressions, be sure Fluffy is lying on her right side, so that the heart faces upward. Place the heel of your hand over the heart, lock your hands together, straighten the arms and give 30 rapid chest Compressions. For a large dog, Compressions should go down about two to three inches. For small dogs and cats, a half inch to full inch is an adequate Compression. After your 30 Compressions give two more rescue breaths, then resume chest compressions. This is called a cycle, and is defined by 30 compressions, followed by two rescue breaths. After four cycles - or about one minute - check again for a heartbeat and signs of independant breathing. If you can’t find either, keep going - 30 compressions, two rescue breaths.
You can continue for as long as 20 minutes, but by then, you really need to be at your vet’s office or an emergency clinic if you want to give your pet the best chance of survival.
This truncated recap can be printed out and placed in your pet’s first aid kit
- Know how to find your pet’s heartbeat in advance.
- Know your ABC’s: Airway, Breathing, Compression.
- In an emergency situation, call for help and get someone to drive you to the vet.
-Lie your pet on the right side.
-Quickly check for heartbeat and breathing
-Align the head and neck
-Pull the tongue out
-Look inside for a foreign body
-Close the muzzle, give 4-5 rescue breaths
-Check for signs of life
-Give 30 chest compressions
-Give two rescue breaths
-Repeat three more times
-Check for signs of life
-Keep going if needed
Remember, your can really increase your pet’s chances if you do this on the way to the vet. Even if you are able to revive your pet at home, get her to the vet for follow up care and observation. Diagnostics performed in the wake of an emergency can give your veterinarian an idea as to what caused the crisis in the first place. There is nothing quite like the rush one gets from successfully administering CPR. That being said, you’re not likely to want to do it again anytime soon.
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