If your guide, hearing, or service dog goes into cardiac arrest, your ability to correctly perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) in a timely manner can easily make the difference between life and death. CPR is used in emergency situations like heart attacks and near drownings in which the heart and breathing stop. The technique has two components: chest compressions to address a lack of heartbeat and artificial respiration to address the stoppage in breathing.
But before we go on, one thing has to be made clear: administering CPR can cause serious injuries or damage to a dog, and even death—especially if it’s not needed. Never practice CPR on a healthy animal. In a life or death emergency, the potential complications like major physical stress, broken ribs, and collapsed lungs are preferable to death. However, they obviously aren’t something to inflict on a healthy dog.
CPR or Just Artificial Respiration?
Should a crisis hit, the first step is to figure out whether your dog needs complete CPR or only artificial respiration. Find out if your dog is breathing and if she has a pulse. A dog with no pulse needs full CPR; a dog with a pulse but who isn’t breathing only requires artificial respiration (just use step 4 in the instructions provided in the following section).
To check if your assistance dog is breathing, hold the back of your hand or your cheek to her nose to determine whether air is coming out. Also, watch for the telltale rising and falling of her chest. If she’s not breathing, immediately check for an obstruction in her throat by opening her mouth, pulling her tongue forward, and looking as far down the throat as possible, preferably with a light source. If you see anything, remove it.
The easiest place to find your assistance dog’s pulse is on her femoral artery on the inner thigh of a hind leg. Run your hand along the inside of the thigh, close to where her leg meets her torso. When you encounter an indented area, press lightly with your forefinger and middle finger to feel for a pulse.
If you don’t feel anything, do the same right above the large center paw pad on a front foot. Or, feel for a heartbeat right over her heart on the left side of her chest. Lay her down on her right side and bend her left front leg so the elbow touches her chest; the point of contact marks the heart’s location.
Again, never practice CPR or artificial respiration on your dog. It’s a good idea, though, to learn how to find her pulse so you can do it efficiently in an emergency. This is something you can practice until you get the hang of it.
How to Perform CPR on a Dog
- Lay your assistance dog on her right side on a flat, sturdy surface. Straighten out her head and neck, pull her tongue forward so that it rests behind her bottom teeth, close her mouth, then get in position behind her back.
- If your service, hearing, or guide dog weighs 30 pounds or more, place one palm on the widest part of her rib cage near—but not directly over—her heart, then place your other palm on top of the back of your hand. If your dog is under 30 pounds, cup your palms and place one on each side of the rib cage; or, if your dog is small enough, cup one palm and place your fingers on one side of her rib cage and your thumb on the other.
- For larger dogs, administer firm downward chest compressions of one-quarter to one-third the width of the chest while holding your elbows straight. For dogs under 30 pounds, squeeze the chest in one-quarter to one-third of its width. Proceed at a rate of 90 to 100 compressions per minute for larger dogs or 100 to 120 compressions per minute for smaller ones.
- If administering CPR alone, stop to provide artificial respiration between every 10 to 15 chest compressions; if a second person is helping, have them give artificial respiration between every three to five compressions. Place your hand over your dog’s muzzle to seal the lips. Put your mouth over her nose and blow gently into it, watching for her chest to rise; if it doesn’t, make sure her mouth is closed tightly and blow a bit harder. Take your mouth away from her nose after each breath and wait for her lungs to deflate. Repeat for the same number of times as you gave chest compressions. Or, if you’re only doing artificial respiration without full CPR, go at a pace of 20 to 30 breaths per minute until your dog begins breathing on her own.
- After each set of chest compressions and one breath, squeeze your hearing, guide, or service dog’s abdomen one time to encourage blood flow to the heart. Put your left hand at the bottom of her abdomen and your right hand at the top and press down and squeeze firmly, but not hard.
- Continue until your assistance dog begins to breathe on her own and her pulse becomes steady. If you aren’t successful within 20 minutes, you are highly unlikely to be successful with continued efforts.