In a crisis, pet CPR may save a life

September 25, 2005|By KRISTIN WILSON

Just like children, household pets can get themselves into plenty of trouble.

They eat chocolate, socks and toxic cleaners. They get into fights and sometimes play in traffic.

In addition to feeding, vaccinating, grooming and petting, dogs and cats sometimes need emergency first aid attention from their owners.

Fortunately, there are plenty of resources to pick up basic first aid for animals.

Kelly Tracey-Martin is a licensed veterinary technician who teaches first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) to pet owners at Hagerstown Community College.

One of the most important things pet owners can do to preserve the health of their animals is to be aware of their routines, Tracey-Martin says.


"You have to know the normals in order to detect the abnormals," she explains. "If some part of that normalcy is off then it's the responsibility of the pet owner to pick up on it."

In drastic situations, when a pet is in cardiac arrest and is no longer breathing, CPR may be needed.

Tracey-Martin teaches pet CPR in her course but says the success rate for the procedure is much higher in a veterinary clinic where emergency equipment and drugs are available.

Providing rescue breaths and chest compressions to a dog or cat is very similar to the procedure used on humans.

"Anybody who has had human CPR on CPR Annie can proficiently perform CPR on a dog or cat," Tracey-Martin says.

One of the most significant differences from human CPR is that the dog or cat must be placed on their side instead of on their back. Also, the frequency of rescue breaths increases as the size of the animal decreases.

A very large dog requires two rescue breaths per 15 chest compressions. A medium size dog would need one breath per five compressions and a small dog or cat needs one breath per three compressions.

It's important to remember that "CPR is only initiated if the heart is not beating," Tracey-Martin says. That is true whether CPR is being performed on a human or animal.

If an animal is not breathing but has a pulse, rescue breathing may be appropriate, she adds.

Rescue breathing for animals is often performed at the scene of fires, when pets suffer from smoke inhalation.

"All you're trying to do is oxygenate the animal," Tracey-Martin says. "They are not breathing so you're doing it for them."

Ernie Girardin, captain at Pioneer Hook and Ladder Co. No. 1, in Hagerstown, put his CPR skills to the test several years ago when he discovered a cat with four kittens in a burning home.

"I had no training in pet CPR," he says. "I used my training for regular CPR and just used smaller compressions and breaths."

His efforts revived the cat and three of the four kittens lived.

Pet owners might also be called upon to respond in a variety of emergency situations resulting from poisoning or traumatic injuries.

There are multiple foods, drugs and chemicals found in most households that can be toxic for dogs and cats, Tracey-Martin says.

Chocolate and antifreeze, for example can be highly dangerous to pets if ingested. Tylenol is "extremely poisonous" in cats, Tracey-Martin says. "One Tylenol tablet will kill your cat."

While the remedy for ingested toxins might be to induce vomiting, pet owners are reminded to consult with a veterinarian first.

"Pet owners have to know what was ingested," Tracey-Martin says. There are some substances that would cause damage to the esophagus if a pet was made to vomit. If the owner does not know what was consumed, it's best to take them to a veterinary clinic, she says.

Learning first aid for pets should not be considered a replacement for veterinary care, Tracey-Martin stresses. "Any situation that requires first aid, they should always consult their veterinarian," she says. A visit to a veterinary clinic might also be necessary.

Here are some other conditions that might require pet owners to give a first aid response:

· Heat stroke or dehydration

· Lacerations

· Hit-by-car accidents or other injuries which involve severe trauma and broken bones

Want to know more?

Hagerstown Community College is offering a pet CPR and first aid course in October especially designed for pet owners. For more information call 301-790-2800 or check out the fall continuing education offerings at

Many reference books are available to help pet owners learn about first aid responses and household pet hazards.

Kelly Tracey-Martin, a licensed veterinary technician and instructor recommends:

· "Pet First Aid" - Backed by the American Red Cross and The Humane Society of the United States, available through local chapters of the American Red Cross. "It's very easy for a pet owner to read and understand," Tracey-Martin says.

· "The Pill Book Guide to Medication for Your Dog and Cat" - By Kate A.W. Roby and Lenny Southam. The book is available for about $7 at Web sites such as and The book lists over-the-counter and prescription medications veterinarians might prescribe for dogs and cats, possible side affects, uses and drug complications.

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