First aid and CPR for your dog

December 23rd, 2013
First aid and CPR for your dog - Houndstooth

Knowing the correct way to apply first aid and CPR for your dog can potentially save its life. Kylie Baracz finds out the best CPR techniques and what to do if your dog has been injured.

CPR and first aid are so important to learn as they can save lives before you have had a chance to get to the local vet.

Joanne Sillince, managing director of Pets Australia, says learning the correct techniques for CPR and pet first aid is crucial. “If you don’t know what to do, or you do first aid incorrectly, you can not only make the dog sicker, but you could even kill them or increase the chances that the dog dies before the vet can see it.”

Correct pet CPR technique

“The problem with CPR is that it’s all in the way that you do it the physical technique, the CPR method, the speed and the depth,” says Sillince. “Physical technique is locked elbows, correct hand position, and power from the shoulders, legs and knees.”

The CPR method has changed substantially; from the old ‘pump and breathe’ technique (also known as 30:5, because you would do 30 heart pumps and 5 breaths) where you spent half your time repositioning yourself for the next set, to the technique colloquially called ‘go for broke’ ignoring breathing in those animals whose hearts have stopped and going for maximum frequency and correct depth to get blood flowing to the brain.

“It’s really important that you learn the new technique and not the old one because there is a substantial difference in survival rate between the two. Some courses are still teaching the old method,” says Sillince.

The other key element to CPR is not commencing until you are sure the heart has stopped, otherwise you may actually kill a living pet.

“Interestingly, there is a new abdominal CPR technique under investigation in humans and animals at the moment, which really highlights the need to get yourself retrained about every three years,” adds Sillince.

What should you do if CPR is not working?

Unlike what we see on television, CPR has a surprisingly low success rate in humans but, unfortunately, the success rate in dogs is even worse; less than 15 per cent of cases result in a long-term live pet. But Sillince says it’s still worth doing.

“Keep going, yell for help and get to the nearest vet ASAP. One of our members provided breathing support for her own pet (who collapsed and stopped breathing but had a heartbeat) for nearly 15 minutes while she ran down the road to the vet with the pet in her arms and the pet survived!” says Sillince.

The other issue is that even if they ‘come alive’, the heart will often stop again so you need to be vigilant.

Pet first aid kits

The two most useful items in a pet first aid kit are a bath/beach towel and a two metre piece of cotton rope.

A towel can be used as a blanket, a stretcher, it can absorb fluids, be used as a security wrap for small dogs, a bandage, a sling or just something to use as a head cover for panicking animals.

“With the two-metre cotton rope, we teach students how to make a collar, leash and muzzle in five seconds, because in a dog injury situation you are genuinely at risk of attack, and you can’t help the dog if you are injured,” says Sillince.

“After that, we recommend a narrow conforming gauze bandage to use as a bandage or muzzle (again, safety first!), at least one wide bandage, wound covers, sterile saline, Betadine® or Salvon®, a collection bottle (for diarrhoea, vomit, parasites, spider/ticks or foreign bodies) and a number of other things. Surprisingly, most of these items aren’t found in shop-bought first aid kits (not even most of the pet ones!), so it’s usually better to develop one of your own.”

What should you do if your dog has been bitten by a snake?

Some interesting research by Murdoch University in WA has changed the way we think about snake bites. They looked at survival and discovered that if you live within 20 minutes of a veterinary practice and you think your pet has been bitten, keeping the pet calm and simply getting it to the vet immediately has a higher survival rate than pressure bandaging (like they do in humans).

“That’s because often by the time you realise the pet has been bitten the toxin has already spread, and pressure bandaging doesn’t work as well in pets as people because of the hair coat, and it’s often impossible to find the bite site in pets (and wasting precious time trying to find it can endanger the pet further),” says Sillince. “Pets also often get bitten on the nose and mouth and pressure bandaging is impossible there!”

There are two reasons why you should go to the vet immediately if this happens. Firstly, your pet can die. Even after a snake bite, some animals will show only minor symptoms and then suddenly crash!

The other reason is that the longer you delay, the higher the vet bills often are, because if the animal survives it often needs far more intensive care to save it. Not to mention the suffering your pet might go through as you wait.

“Trying to save money on a vet bill often results in far more pain, cost and heartache. Go now, not later,” says Sillince.

Tips to look after your pet

Sillince has provided three top tips to look after your pet’s health.

1. Look for pet businesses that take their Pet First Aid training seriously. If your boarding kennel, pet sitter, doggy day care or groomer cannot produce a Pet First Aid certificate less than three years old, then you should take your pet elsewhere. Accidents, injuries, brain bleeds, seizures and other doggy disasters can happen in the blink of an eye, and it can mean the difference between your best friend living or dying. It can, and does, “happen to you”.

2. If you choose to do a Pet First Aid course, take a little time to make sure you choose one that is teaching current techniques and conducted by a qualified veterinarian, so you can get expert answers to all your questions and find out why things are done, not just what is done. Having a fully qualified trainer is critical, and critical medical research that supports these courses is changing all the time.

3. Pets Australia holds regular Pet First Aid courses around Australia, trained by qualified veterinarians, usually in small groups with your own dog on a Sunday at local pet businesses. Visit for scheduled courses or, if you would like to be put on a waiting list for a Pet First Aid course in your own town or suburb, email and you will be notified when there is a course in your area.

Image Credit: Houndstooth Studio

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