Unfortunately there are no paramedics to call when a cat or dog goes into acute respiratory or cardiac failure, however, pet owners who learn a small animal version of cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) can save the life of a dying pet.
CPR is a technique that combines heart massage with artificial respiration in order to revive human heart attack victims. The animal variation of CPR is used when a pet becomes unconscious due to heart failure, injury, trauma or smoke inhalation.
There are 2 things an owner should not do if and when their pet goes into heart or respiratory failure:
1. Do your best not to panic. It is up to you to convey a sense of calmness and confidence not only to your pet but also to those around you.
2. Do not waste time. Start CPR immediately while you let others arrange for immediate transport to the nearest veterinary clinic. CPR can and should be continued during the car ride to the veterinary clinic.
An animal in acute heart or respiratory failure may still be partially conscious and therefore should be kept calm and comfortable. Observe and evaluate your pet’s condition constantly. Keep talking to the animal as you would talk to a child. Approach any and all frightened and injured animals carefully and slowly because even your own pet who has absolute trust and confidence in you may attempt to bite or scratch when he or she has no other way to communicate apprehension and fear.
The first step when beginning CPR is to restrain the animal in as gentle and non-threatening a way as you can. Cats can be rolled up in a towel or blanket. Dogs can be muzzled with a belt or a mans tie if they are attempting to bite. Once the pet is under control quickly use a blunt instrument to open the animals mouth and clear it of foreign objects, food, blood or mucus ( a spoon is ideal). To keep the pets mouth open during the clearing procedure use a piece of cloth folded several time and insert it between the animals back upper and lower teeth, on only one side of the mouth. For obvious reasons, never use your fingers to clear your dog or cats mouth.
With the pet placed on its side, properly restrained, and with his or her mouth held closed, extend the animal’s head and inflate the lungs by blowing short breaths into the animal’s nose (not mouth) with enough force to moderately expand the chest. You may use a handkerchief over the nose and blow through it if you prefer. The air passageway through an animal’s nose is better than the mouth because it creates a closed system which allows the lungs to expand. Blow through the nose 15 times per minute (every 4 seconds) making sure the lungs expand with each breath applied. At the same time, use your free hand to apply heart massage by firmly but rapidly compressing the ribs and chest wall at a rate of 60 to 80 times per minute. The hand applying the heart massage should be placed about 2-4 inches behind where the front leg meets the chest. The palm of your hand should compress the chest along the bottom 2/3 of the chest wall. The pet should be lying on his or her side on a firm surface (the floor) as opposed to a bed or couch so that compression of the sides of the chest will be more effectively accomplished. The amount of pressure will vary with the size of the animal.
There is no time limit for applying CPR. The technique may be used until the animal begins to breath and the heart begins to beat or until the owner is certain the pet is beyond help. Practicing this technique at home with your healthy pet could some day save the animals life.