Seeing your pet choke and in distress can be scary. Dogs who are choking or losing air will often appear panicked, and may paw at their mouth to indicate something is lodged in the back of their throat. Other indications of a true emergency can be unresponsiveness or unconsciousness. In these severe cases, seconds can feel like hours, and how you react in the moment can be the difference between life and death for your dog.
While most of us are familiar with how to perform CPR on humans, many first-aid courses don’t tell you how to do so for your pet. In this post, we’ve compiled veterinary expertise and tips to help assess your pet in an emergency situation, along with step-by-step instructions to perform life-saving CPR if you need to do so.
Check if CPR is Needed
When a dog isn’t breathing, oxygen levels in their blood drop rapidly. Once this happens, their kidneys, liver, and other vital organs can fail, along with potential for brain damage once respiratory failure occurs. For dogs, CPR is meant as an emergency procedure in these situations to help revive them when they aren’t breathing or don’t have a heartbeat.
Before performing CPR, you first need to evaluate your dog to make sure the situation requires you to do so. As Canine Journal advises, “time is of the essence in an emergency situation, so perform these evaluations as quickly as possible.”
1. Contact your vet or emergency hospital
As a first step, contact your vet or emergency hospital ASAP. They can help guide you through CPR in case you forget a step, and will assist in getting your pet in the hands of professional care as quickly as possible.
2. Check your dog’s airway
Next, check your dog’s airway for any obstructions by opening their mouth and looking in to see if their throat is blocked, which can cut off air supply. If something is blocking their airway, use your finger to remove it.
3. Determine if your dog is breathing
To determine if your dog is breathing, watch their chest to see if it rises and falls with their breath. You can also place your hand by their nose to feel for their breathing. If the dog is breathing, CPR is not necessary, even if they are unconscious – however, the heimlich maneuver may be necessary if they’re choking.
To perform the heimlich maneuver on small dogs (those under 30 pounds), lay your dog on their back and apply pressure to the abdomen just below the rib cage. For medium and large dogs, place your arms around their belly and join your hands underneath. Making a fist, push firmly up and forward, just below their rib cage.
Repeat, and periodically check your dog’s mouth to remove any objects that may have been dislodged in the process.
4. Check for a heartbeat
To find a dog’s heartbeat, lay them on their right side and push their front elbow back toward their chest. The spot where the elbow touches the chest is where their heart is located, and you can place your hand here to check for a heartbeat.
How to Perform CPR
Once evaluating and determining that your dog is not breathing, or you cannot find a heartbeat, it’s time to perform CPR. Begin by positioning the dog for CPR by laying them on a flat surface and ensuring their head is aligned with their back. Then, slightly tilt up their neck to open up their airways.
1. Place Your Mouth Over the Airway
Using one hand, hold your dog’s mouth and jaw closed to prevent air from escaping. If your dog is under 30 pounds, you can do this by placing your mouth over their entire nose and mouth.
2. Perform Artificial Respiration
With your hand or mouth covering your dog’s mouth and nose, blow air into their nose and mouth until you see their chest rise. Then, release your mouth so the air can escape. Perform this for about 20 – 30 breaths per minute.
3. Begin chest compressions
Using the tips we provided earlier in this post to find your dog’s heart, place your hand over their heart and press firmly to compress the chest (about ⅓ – ½ of its usual depth). As the ASPCA recommends, try to perform ten compressions every five seconds, and repeat these steps at a one breath to ten compression ratio.
4. Swap Out Help
If you’re able to, swap out partners to perform CPR. Completing the recommended 100 compressions per minute can be exhausting, so swapping out CPR with another person every two minutes ensures your dog gets the proper help they need.
While performing CPR, check periodically (about every two minutes) to see if your dog has started breathing again. If they haven’t, continue with the artificial respirations until help arrives.
Remember, always contact your veterinarian in emergency situations, and be sure to have your local pet emergency contact on hand at all times to quickly access in an emergency.