What you don’t know about pet CPR could kill your best friend

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Three months ago at a dog training class held at Canyon Crest K-9 Training Center in Tacoma, WA, a five-year-old boxer named Sugar fell to the floor, apparently dead. The owner screamed that the dog wasn’t breathing. “What the heck?” said the class instructor, Ron Pace. Then he ran over and began compressing Sugar’s chest and performing mouth-to-snout resuscitation.

Pace had his assistant record the moment on his iPhone. “When something like this happens, it can be hard to explain it to the vet, so I thought it’d be good to video it,” he told me.

The whole thing would be unwatchable—and probably not on YouTube—if the dog didn’t make it. You can skip ahead to the two-minute mark to see Sugar suddenly come back to life.

I heard about this video on Sunday when I attended a pet CPR and First Aid class in Manhattan. The class, called Doggie Doggie, Are You Okay? was held by SkillShare, a site that organizes classes taught by local experts and aficionados. The teacher, Maria Martinez, works in the pharmaceutical industry. After her own dog had a frightening moment where she nearly choked on a rib bone, Martinez became a pet safety and first aid instructor though Pet Tech, which offers a three-day pet First Aid/CPR teacher training program in Connecticut.

I had two reasons for giving up four hours of my weekend to this: One, I thought it’d make for a blog post. Two, I’m working for a dog walking company where they ask walkers to be certified in dog CPR and First Aid.

The fact that I’m a pet owner really wasn’t part of the equation. Sure, I have a small furry best friend who likes putting weird things in his mouth.  But his emergent care has always seemed like something to be handled by a pro.

But, now that I’ve devoted four hours of my life to watching the Pet Tech PowerPoint presentation and examined a black stuffed poodle toy  to see if it was breathing (it wasn’t), I’m amazed it had never occurred to me to do this before. Did a four hour class turn me into some kind of pet EMT? No more than my seventh grade First Aid class qualified me to save someone’s life. I’d prefer to be the “You, go call 911” person. But if there were a critical situation and it all came down to me, I like to think that some residual knowledge would kick in.

I have to guess that there are others out there who feel similarly about their own First Aid education. Still, if you’ve ever watched ER, you have at least some vague understanding of how to do what’s necessary. But most people have never even considered the notion of non-human CPR and first aid. This means that, if you are ever in a situation where a pet collapses, the mere fact that you once met a cat at a party might make you the most qualified person in the room.

Indeed, Pace, who has worked as a trainer for more than thirty years, had zero knowledge of dealing with a dog that wasn’t breathing. He didn’t do some of the things we were told to do in my degree program: approach the dog from the back to avoid getting kicked, check for a pulse, compress at a rate of 100 pushes per minute, two breaths for every 15 compressions.  And he didn’t stamp his feet and say “Doggie, Doggie, are you OK?” like we were all told to do.

But whatever. It worked.

“I guess natural instinct just kicked in,” he told me, noting that a firefighter is now organizing a dog first aid program for the Canyon Crest K-9 clients, many of whom witnessed Sugar’s collapse. “Honestly, taking a class in dog CPR or anything like that…it never occurred to me,” he said.

Pace really got lucky: the majority of human recipients of CPR don’t make it, regardless of the training of the person administering the compressions; there are no stats on the matter apparently, but it’s hard to imagine that pets fare much better.

A slim chance of survival is still a chance. That’s why I now see that it’s the job of every pet owner to at least spend a few moments considering what to do in an emergency. That might mean taking a class through the Red Cross, which offers them throughout the country. They also have a book on the subject, as does Pet Tech. In addition to walking you through the basics on keeping your dog healthy through old age, these resources can talk you through the fundamentals  of how and where to apply pressure in order to do the CPR compressions or the Heimlich on dogs of many different sizes and shapes.

Unfortunately, there are still a lot of unhappy endings in emergency situations. Immediately after Sugar’s near-death experience, he was rushed to the vet where he was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy. He was fitted with a heart monitor and his owner received instruction in dog CPR. Ten days later, he collapsed again. She performed chest compressions correctly. Sadly, that time it didn’t work. “But the whole incident has brought more awareness to the need for people to learn this,” said Pace. “And Sugar’s owner felt really lucky to have those ten days.”

If you do nothing else, assemble a basic emergency kit:
Put together a basic emergency kit to protect your pet:

Emergency contact information

Include your vet’s name and number, as well as information for the closest emergency animal medical facility in your area. In some places, there are even animal ambulances. If you’re in New York City, there’s Ambuvet: 1-800-AMBUVET.  Also good to have the Animal Poison Control Center hotline: (888) 426-4435.


Cats and dogs have pressure points at the top of their inner thighs, in their armpits, and behind the big pad on each paw. These are the places to apply pressure while you wrap the gauze around a wounded limb or foot.

Hydrogen peroxide

This will make an animal throw up. When Amos ate rat poison a few years ago, I was fortunate to have a vet tech roommate who talked me through the details of dog regurgitation induction. The first step is to fill a turkey baster with a solution of water and one teaspoon of hydrogen peroxide for every ten pounds of dog. I did this, stuck it down his throat, and a minute later, he puked up a turquoise, foamy mess. I felt like a super hero. (For a comprehensive rundown of common things that are poisonous for pets, go to the ASPCA’s poison control site orPetPoisonHelpLine.com)

A muzzle

If your pet is injured and clearly in pain, the very first thing to do is to muzzle him: a wounded animal is likely to bite as a form of self-protection, and if you’re bitten, you won’t be much help. If there is no muzzle on hand, we learned how to tie one using a shoelace, leash, or strip of fabric. Wiki-Pet offers a nice demo of how to do this.




Digital Thermometer

A temperature over 103-degrees is worrisome. Any thermometer will do, but, as it goes up the rear, Maria suggested that the dog have one designated just for him.

Also a good tool in any pet owner’s pocket is Pet Tech’s comprehensive app, which covers a wide array of emergency situations and talks you through cat and dog CPR, as well as dealing with heatstroke, bleeding, seizures, fractures, snakebites, and more.



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