CPR, First Aid, and Life Jackets for Dogs

By: Jill Jones

Some of the best things about dogs is they are fun, devoted, loyal, and relatively care-free companions. But what happens when things go wrong and they get hurt? Do you know what to do in the absence of ready access to a veterinarian? If your answer is no, don’t feel bad—you’re certainly not alone. But you’ve heard the conventional wisdom, “an ounce of prevention is worth an pound of cure.” In this case, it means having a dog-specific first-aid kit on hand and learning how to use it. It also means taking measures to keep your dog safe when he is in potentially dangerous situations, such as equipping him with a life jacket when he’s out on the water with you. For further peace of mind, you may want to learn how to perform CPR on your dog, in case of the unthinkable.

Dog First-Aid Kit

A canine first-aid kit should be among the supplies you acquire when you adopt your dog, and should accompany him on his travels away from home. Distinct from a human first-aid kit, it should include the following:

  • Dog first-aid instruction manual (in case you don’t have internet access)
  • Important phone numbers:
    • Your vet’s phone number
    • The number for the nearest emergency vet clinic
    • The ASPCA poison-control center: 1-800-426-4435
  • Your dog’s vaccination records and any other pertinent medical records (medications, etc.) and current photo
  • Self-cling bandage (specialty stretch bandage that won’t stick to your dog’s fur)
  • And standard human first-aid kit items:
    • Absorbent and sterile non-stick gauze pads and gauze rolls
    • Adhesive tape
    • Antiseptic wipes or spray
    • Foil emergency blanket
    • Cotton balls or swabs
    • Hydrogen peroxide (only to use as directed by pet health professional)
    • Benadryl (ditto)
    • Ice pack
    • Non-latex disposable gloves
    • Petroleum jelly (to lubricate thermometer)
    • Rectal thermometer (normal temperature range is 100-103º F)
    • Blunt scissors
    • Tweezers
    • Sterile saline solution

This kit should be checked periodically and expired items replaced.

Dog Life Jacket

This is a no-brainer: to ensure the safety of your dog, he should wear a life jacket whenever you’re out on the water—no matter how good a swimmer you think he is. When you’re out in the elements, extra precautions are in order. Not only can the weather degrade rapidly, putting everyone in the boat at risk (even when it’s dead calm), but your dog can react unexpectedly to unfamiliar stimuli, by, say, jumping out of the boat in a panic. Your dog should wear a life jacket for the same reasons you and all the other two-legged passengers do.

How to Perform Dog CPR

(CAUTION: CPR is a potentially injurious procedure which should never be practiced on a healthy dog. These are general guidelines only—not a substitute for professional training and consultation with your vet.)

If your dog is ill or injured, call your veterinarian immediately for guidance. If, for whatever reason, you can’t get in touch with a vet, you may have to take matters into your own hands. Though it’s painful even to contemplate, in the unlikely event your dog becomes so ill or injured he’s rendered unresponsive, your ability to perform proper CPR on him may just save his life. Theoretically similar to human CPR, anatomical differences make dog CPR a bit different in practice.

Evaluate your Dog’s Condition

If you’re unfamiliar with Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation or CPR, it is a combination of chest compression and artificial respiration—which might be necessary in the event that you find your dog unconscious. Before commencing CPR, you must evaluate your dog’s condition, as follows:

  • Is he breathing? Determine whether your dog is breathing by observing or feeling the rise and fall of his chest and ribs. Otherwise, hold the back of your hand or your cheek up to his nose and feel for air.
  • Is his airway blocked? If he’s not breathing, check his airway for any blockage by pulling his tongue forward and carefully remove anything stuck in his mouth or throat.
  • Does he have a pulse? Next, check to see if he has a pulse by gently pressing your index finger on his femoral artery, located where his back inner thigh joins his body. If you don’t feel his pulse there, try the large center pad of his front paw or feel directly where his heart is (located on the left side of his chest in the equivalent spot as a human’s).

If your dog has a pulse but is not breathing, you only need to perform artificial respiration (described below).

Otherwise, you need to perform full CPR by preparing him as follows:

  • Lay your dog on his right side on a stable, flat surface
  • Straighten his head and neck to the extent possible (but don’t overextend it) to open his airway
  • Pull his tongue forward to rest on the back of the teeth and shut his mouth
  • Position yourself behind his back

Chest Compressions

  • For dogs weighing more than 30 lbs. place both palms, one over the other, on the top of his rib cage—near the heart, but not directly over it. If he’s a smaller dog, cup your palms and hold him with one palm on either side of the heart region.
  • Keeping both elbows straight, push down on the rib cage in a firm, quick compression to be repeated at a quick, steady rate of 15 per 10 seconds (17 for smaller dogs that weigh less than 30 lbs.).

Artificial Respiration

  • If administering full CPR, provide your dog artificial respiration after each set of 15 compressions.
  • If you’re administering artificial respiration only, follow the procedure outlined below and administer one breath every two to three seconds at a steady pace of 20-30 breaths per minute.
  • Ensure your dog’s mouth is completely closed.
  • Place your mouth over your dog’s nostrils (or entire muzzle if aiding a small dog) and blow gently, watching to see if his chest lifts and expands. If not, try again by blowing harder and ensuring his mouth is sealed shut.
  • Break off to catch your breath and try again after a set of compressions.

Additional Measures

  • Administer an abdominal squeeze to assist in blood circulation back to the heart by placing your left hand under your dog’s abdomen and your right hand on top.
  • Give one abdominal squeeze after each set of 15 compressions and one breath.

Continue CPR or artificial respiration for 15 minutes or so, until, hopefully, your dog starts to breathe on his own.

Keep Your Dog Safe

Happily, most of us will never need to perform CPR on our dogs, nor will we even need the first-aid kit, if we’re lucky. But dogs, being dogs, sometimes do crazy things and get hurt. It’s our job to protect them as best we can by minimizing their risks.

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