Knowing how to perform CPR won’t always save a dog’s life, but it can revive a dog that’s collapsed in the field. Here’s how to do it
CPR is something I teach at all my first aid courses, and knowing how to perform CPR could save a dog’s life. But, I should warn you, it probably won’t.
In most first aid situations where a dog’s heart has stopped beating, the level of trauma is too great for CPR to be effective. Even in a veterinary practice, unless the cause of the cardiac arrest is reversible (e.g. a reaction to anaesthetic), CPR fails more often than in humans.
So why bother learning about it? Because CPR has revived collapsed dogs in the field. I suspect they still had a weak heartbeat and someone pumping away at their chest helped them start breathing again, as well as stimulating the circulation. You can’t do any harm by trying CPR – a dead dog won’t get any more dead – plus, you will feel that you did all you could.
If a dog appears to be unconscious do a very quick check for breathing and a pulse. You might need to get down close to the dog to see small chest movements, or you can use a bit of fur or grass to see if there is airflow from the nostrils. It is easiest to slip your hand under the dog’s chest and feel for a heartbeat. Alternatively, feel for the femoral pulse. This is found on the inside of the back leg, somewhere between the groin and the knee in the groove between the muscle layers. If you are not sure if the dog is breathing, or if you can feel a heartbeat or pulse, start CPR anyway!
It is easiest to perform CPR with the dog lying on its side – it doesn’t matter which side. Check the mouth for any debris (such as leaves if the dog has been in a near-drowning situation), and place the neck in an extended but relaxed position. There are two ways you can perform CPR on a dog...
1) Mouth to nose breathing and chest compressions
Muzzle the dog, or hold the muzzle firmly and blow up the dog’s nose. The chest should rise as you do this. Be careful not to overinflate the lungs, especially if you are a large man and your patient is a small dog!
Next, interlock your hands and start to perform chest compressions over the highest part of the chest. Aim for 15-20 compressions at a rate of 100/minute. For tiny dogs or puppies, squeeze the chest between your thumb and fingers. Compress the chest by half to two-thirds’ depth.Give another breath. Repeat!
‘It just so happens that the Bee Gees song Stayin’ Alive is 100bpm, and the chorus is about 20 compressions... so, get singing’
2) Chest compressions only
Interlock your hands and start to perform chest compressions over the highest part of the chest. Aim for compressions at a rate of 100/minute. For tiny dogs or puppies, squeeze the chest between your thumb and fingers. Compress the chest by half to two-thirds’ depth. It just so happens that the Bee Gees song Stayin’ Alive is 100bpm, and the chorus is about 20 compressions… so, get singing.
In both cases, continue until the dog recovers, or for up to five minutes. It is unlikely, but not impossible, that you would be able to continue CPR while transporting a dog to the vets, and there is no pet paramedic service to come out and assist. And as mentioned earlier, when a dog’s heart stops it is usually because the trauma or illness is so severe that nothing can be done.
What about defibrillators?
Unfortunately, canine cardiac arrest rarely involves the fibrillation [quivering movement of the individual fibres in the heart] that is common in human patients, so defibrillators simply don’t work.
Unlike most of the other topics in this series, CPR is not something to try at home! You can practise finding your dog’s pulse and heartbeat, but if you want to try CPR on a dog dummy, you’ll need to book onto a canine first aid course.
It is easiest to perform CPR with the dog lying on its side
Perform chest compressions over the highest part of the chest