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CPR for Pets
Cardiopulmonary resuscitation, commonly known as CPR, is the method by which circulation and respiration are externally supported in a person (or animal) in cardiac arrest. The reasons for undergoing cardiac arrest (i.e. "having a heart attack") are very different in humans and animals. While in reality CPR statistically has a low success rate in humans (somewhere between 15-29%, depending on the study) the number of animals that can be saved through CPR is even lower (less than 10%). The definition of "successful" resuscitation differs from person to person – an animal that can breathe on its own but has no higher brain function requiring a feeding tube, is very different from the CPR patient that returns to living a normal life.
Young animals that are otherwise in good physical shape certainly stand a better chance than older animals or those with end-stage diseases such as cancer or kidney failure. The idea behind the following guidelines is to provide support for an animal until veterinary care is available., A bystander can perform the Basic CPR protocol outlined here, but trained veterinary professionals are needed for Advanced CPR (intubation, machine ventilation, intravenous access, drugs, etc.)
CPR in 4 Steps:
Basic CPR starts with following the ABC's: Airway, Breathing, and Circulation. First and most importantly, make sure the animal is actually unconscious! Talk to it, gently tap it, and attempt to wake it. You could be seriously injured if you try to resuscitate an animal that is merely sleeping deeply. Once you’ve determined the animal is unconscious, then:
Step 1: Check to see if the animal is breathing – look at its chest, listen for breathing, feel for breaths with the back of your hand.
Step 2: If the animal is not breathing, open their airway by tilting its head back a little bit and pulling on the tongue. Then give it 4-5 breaths by covering its nose with your mouth and forcefully blowing until you see the chest rise, and removing your mouth when the chest has fully expanded. After several breaths, stop and check for breathing and a pulse.
Step 3: Check for a pulse. On larger animals, place your fingers on the inside of the rear leg, towards the top of the thigh. On small dogs and cats, place your fingers on the chest just behind the shoulder. If there is a pulse but the animal is still not breathing, continue breathing for it, mouth-to-snout. Give 1 breath every 3 seconds, or for cats and small dogs give 1 breath every 2 seconds. Push down on the stomach area every few seconds to help expel the air that may have accumulated there. Continue rescue breathing until you can get the animal to the nearest veterinary facility.
Step 4: If there is no pulse, begin chest compressions. In small dogs and cats, place the animal on the ground, and then sandwich the chest with your hands on either side, right behind the shoulder blades. Squeeze the chest, compressing it about ½ to 1 inch deep. Do this 100-150 times per minute. In a larger dog, place it on its right side and put your hands on the widest part of the chest. Depress the rib cage 1 ½ to 4 inches, depending on the dog’s size. Do this 80 to 120 times per minute. After one minute check for a pulse. If no response, then repeat chest compressions. If possible, give breaths during the compressions. If this is not possible, give 2 breaths after every 12 compressions. If two people are working together, then have the second person give a breath during every second or third compression. Continue CPR until you can get the animal to a veterinary facility.
The above protocol can also be found at VeterinaryPartner.com. You can print the article by going to www.veterinarypartner.com/Content.plx?P=Print&A=294.
Taking a pet first aid course is highly recommended. The American Red Cross offers such courses – see their website at www.redcross.org/services/hss/courses/pets.html.
For a map of pet first aid course locations, go to
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