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How to Perform CPR on a Dog

Pet First Aid Image Dog with first aid kit in mouth

The “ABC” steps below can help you to remember how to perform canine CPR in the event of an emergency. In order to correctly perform these procedures, owners should discuss them with their veterinarian ahead of time, so that they are prepared in case an emergency situation occurs. DO NOT practice CPR on healthy animals, as it can lead to serious injuries, including broken bones and a collapsed lung. Classes are available in many areas to train owners how best to respond to animal emergencies.

Step 1: A for Airway

Gently open the dog’s mouth, pull the tongue out, and try to determine if the dog is breathing. If possible gently straighten out the dog’s head and neck, but do not extend the neck out or you can cause further injury. Look at the dog’s chest for any sign of respiration, or hold your hand to the dog’s mouth to see if you can feel any signs of breathing or respiration.

Once you are sure the dog is not breathing, perform mouth-to-snout. Hold the dog’s mouth closed, cup your hand around the dog’s nose, and try breathing two breaths directly into the dog’s snout. If the breaths go in proceed to Step 2.

If the breaths are obstructed open the dog’s mouth again, and check for any visible object that is stuck in the dog’s throat. If an object is visible press gently on the dog’s throat in an upward motion while you try to remove the object. If no object is visible, perform the canine Heimlich maneuver. Do not proceed to Step 2 until the dog’s airway has been cleared.

Step 2: B for Breathing

If the breaths in Step 1 go into the dog’s lungs, continue the mouth-to-snout procedure. The ideal number of breaths is one breath for every 3 seconds with an average of 20 breaths per minute. If you are performing CPR on a large dog use your full lung capacity for the breath. If you are performing CPR on a small dog use shorter breaths.

During this process, make sure that your hand is snug around the dog's muzzle and try to blow the air directly into the dog’s nose. Always keep the dogs mouth closed with your other hand. Never force air into the dog’s nose. Instead, breathe into the dog’s nose at a rate of time, and pressure, that you would normally exhale.

Step 3: C for Circulation

Once the A and B’s have been established, check the dog’s femoral artery for a pulse, or lay your hand on the upper left side of the dog’s chest to see if you can feel a heartbeat. If no heartbeat or pulse is present begin chest compressions.

First lay the dog on its right side, and then locate the middle of the dog’s chest which is approximately where the left elbow touches the ribcage. This location is where the compressions should take place.

For small dogs 16 pounds or less, the thumb and forefinger can be used to compress both sides of the chest. For larger dogs, use a palm over hand method for compressions. The chest should be compressed about 1.5 inches down on each compression.

The speed of compressions and breathing is important for the CPR to work properly. Compressions should be done at a rate of 3 compressions every 2 seconds. After 15 quick compressions two breaths should be performed.

If no abdominal injury is possible, another person can gently press on the dog’s abdomen as the chest compression is released. This extra CPR, step known as interposed abdominal compression, can help return blood flow to the heart.

Repeat the CPR as necessary and periodically check for any signs of breathing or pulse from the dog. Only stop compressions when you feel a pulse or heartbeat, and do not stop breaths until the dog starts breathing on its own. If possible it is best to have someone continue the CPR in a vehicle while the dog is being transported to an emergency veterinarian clinic.

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