CPR's Not Just For Humans Anymore

The west coast has an earned reputation for being both socially progressive and positively wacky. Depending on your political and philosophical leanings, one side or another of its attributes may well stand more pronounced. For the life of me, though, I can’t decide which of those perceptions the following news fuels more.

Safety Training Seminars, a San Francisco-based company that offers CPR and first aid certification and safety classes throughout California, recently hosted an event that, depending on one’s perspective, was either long overdue, interesting, or just bizarre. The company itself issued a press release about it and said the event met with "a warm reception" -- so warm, in fact, that it wanted everyone to be aware of it as well as what to do the next time they encountered an asphyxiated pooch.

"Finding a family dog or pet unconscious at home, or a pet cat hit by a car that is not breathing and without a heartbeat, can be a traumatic and very scary experience," the company says, understating, in my opinion, how frustrating it can be to find an incapacitated car. "Thankfully there are steps to save the animal's life. The most important step is to stay calm and immediately call a veterinarian."

STS's press release then delineates the four easy steps involved with Pet CPR:

"Step 1: Check the condition of the pet. Is the pet breathing? To check, put your hand one inch in front of its nose and mouth to feel for breath. Does the pet have a heartbeat? To check, put your ear to the pet’s chest.

"Step 2: Check for a clear airway. If you have confirmed that the pet is not breathing, look inside its throat to check for obstructions. To do this, open its mouth and pull the tongue forward but stay alert in case of an involuntary bite. Look for any objects that might be lodged in the throat, and if there is something there remove it. Dogs have very poor eating habits, so it is common for them to choke on food.

"Step 3: Begin mouth to nose breathing. Start by closing the pet's mouth, then put the pet's neck in a straight position and breath directly into the pet's nose until you see its chest rise. If the pet's chest does not rise, repeat step 2 and make sure there is nothing blocking the pet's airway. Once you see the pet’s chest rise, keep breathing into the pet once every 4 or 5 seconds.

"Step 4: Begin chest compressions. Only start chest compressions after you have established the mouth to nose breathing effectively. Lay the pet on its right side so that the pet’s heart is now facing up behind the elbow of its left front leg. Press down gently on the pet’s chest with your hand, about one inch down for medium-sized dogs and deeper for bigger dogs. For cats and small dogs, push down on the chest with the thumb and forefinger. Do 80-120 compressions each minute for large animals and 100-150 for smaller pets. Once the compressions are started, switch off between compressions and mouth to nose breathing."

Now, I love my dog. I do. But when it comes to mouth-to-snout resuscitation, I don’t know if I have it in me. That said, now that I have the above steps stuck in my head, I know that the thought of reviving him that way will at least cross my mind in an emergency situation – something that absolutely would not have happened yesterday. If he goes down as described above, though, his life still might well depend on how recently he’s invaded the cats' litter box for the morsels he apparently finds so irresistible. As for the other critters in the place – two parakeets, two hamsters, two betas -- I don't know, but I’m guessing the tongue-pulling/object dislodging step might be the tricky part.

STS admits that, "Sadly, CPR is much more difficult to perform on pets than it is on humans; therefore, the success rate is lower." Nevertheless, the company maintains that in a pet emergency, CPR is still the best plan of action. As I say, I find myself wondering about the subject. Has this been around for a while and I've somehow just never heard of it, despite being a lifelong pet owner? Is the practice of Pet CPR widespread, or is it at this point mainly a California thing? What about those of you who own ferrets or chameleons or, I don’t know, gila monsters? Or what about boa constrictors? Can you approximate chest compressions on creatures that don’t even have a chest? Would the mouth-to-snout part be anything like blowing up one of those long, bendable balloons? What do you think?

Posted by Ronnie Rittenberry on Mar 22, 2010

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