CPR, rescue breathing for pets

Posted: Sunday, April 11, 2004

As much as we try to protect our pets from harm, accidents occur. As such, it is important to be prepared for accidents before they happen, and one way to be prepared is to know how to give cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or what is commonly referred to as CPR.

Pets can need CPR for a variety of reasons, with one of the most common being when some item gets lodged in their throat and obstructs their breathing. This may be a toy, a table scrap that was too big to chew or sometimes an item swallowed after a pet has pilfered through the trash when no one was looking.

However it happened, the end result is often the same a pet is found choking, or worse yet, unconscious and not breathing.

The first thing to do is remain calm. No good can come from losing your cool in an emergency. Animals can sense alarm in their owners but can't understand what is happening, so body language is very important. Don't panic, but be swift and deliberate in your actions.

If a pet is found in distress, assess the situation quickly. Check for hazardous materials such as poisons or electrical cords that may have led to the pet's disabled condition. Note if there is any blood, vomit or feces.

Check the pet's responsiveness, pulse and breathing, since these are vital to know before starting CPR. This can be done by placing a hand on the left side of an animal's chest to feel for a heartbeat.

Sometimes the chest can be seen rising and falling if the animal is breathing. A mirror held in front of the nose will collect condensation from exhalations if an animal is breathing.

Although somewhat modified, the same techniques used for people whose heart or breathing has stopped rescue breathing and chest compressions can be used for pets that have stopped breathing. In both scenarios it is important to follow what is known as the ABC's: airway, breathing and circulation.

Airway: If a pet is not breathing, check to see if the mouth and throat are clear of foreign objects. Sometimes a bone, large chuck of meat or other item can be seen in the throat and pulled out to resolve the problem. However, exercise caution since unresponsive dogs may bite out of instinct.

If the airway is blocked and the obstruction cannot be seen, lay your pet down on its side and gently tilt the head back to extended the neck and head. Be careful not to further injure the pet by overextending the neck. Pull the tongue out of the mouth and carefully use your fingers to sweep for foreign material or vomit from the mouth.

If necessary, perform the Heimlich maneuver by grasping the animal around the waist, rear toward you, or turn it upside if it the pet is small enough to lift safely. Place a fist just below the ribs and compress the abdomen with three to five quick pushes. Check the mouth to see if the foreign object has been freed.

This process can be repeated more than once, but if not successful on the first attempt, make arrangements to immediately take your pet to the nearest veterinary hospital. Even if the foreign object comes out on the second of third attempt, the pet still should be seen by a veterinarian since internal injuries may have occurred to the pet during the Heimlich process.

Breathing: If the dog is breathing, allow the animal to assume a comfortable position. If the pet is not breathing, make sure the airway is open and begin rescue breathing. Make sure the neck is straight before beginning.

For medium to large dogs those over 30 pounds perform mouth-to-nose breathing. Seal the mouth and lips by gently wrapping your hand around the muzzle and holding it closed. Place your mouth over the dog's nose. For pets under 30 pounds, cover their mouth and lips with your mouth as the seal.

Give four or five rapid, forceful exhalations, then check to see if the animal is breathing without assistance. If breathing hasn't resumed normally, for pets over 30 pounds give 20 breaths per minute, and for pets under 30 pounds give 20 to 30 breaths per minute. Continue rescue breathing until you reach a veterinarian, or for a maximum of 20 minutes.

Circulation: Check for a heartbeat. If none is detected, begin cardiac compressions with rescue breathing. Be sure there is no heartbeat before beginning compressions.

For most animals, chest compressions are best done with the animal lying on its right side on a hard, flat surface. Cup your hands over each other and compress the animal's chest at the point where the animal's left elbow lies when pulled back to the chest. Compress so the chest moves about one to three inches with each compression.

If working alone, do five compressions for each rescue breath, then check for a pulse. If there are two people, one person should do the breathing while the other performs the chest compressions at a rate of two to three compressions for each breath.

Smaller pets have faster heart rates so compressions should be more rapid for them. For dogs over 90 to 100 pounds, perform 10 chest compressions for each breath. Check the heartbeat after one minute and continue if none is detected.

Continue CPR until reaching a veterinarian and be sure to alert them that you are on the way with a pet in respiratory distress so their staff can be prepared for your arrival. For more information on CPR, contact your local veterinarian.

Joseph Robertia is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion. He has worked with wildlife and domestic animals for more than 10 years as a veterinary technician, a zoo keeper, and most recently as a zoologist for the Wildlife Conservation Society. He welcomes any pet-related questions or story ideas, but please none of a veterinary nature. Ideas and questions can be sent to his attention by e-mail at clarion@alaska.net.

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