The 3 C’s of Pet Emergencies (and why that dog CPR video drives me nuts)

OK, I wasn’t going to comment on that “Dog trainer saves dog with CPR” video that’s floating around the web, but enough people have seen it that I think it warrants it. It’s gotten enough play in the last day that I actually decided to postpone my vaccine post.

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Despite the fact that the man neither saved the dog nor performed CPR, I would be OK with not bursting his bubble and letting him carry on this wave of adoration were it not for this one simple fact: I don’t want you all to do the same thing.

I do want to state that I know he tried his best, and good for him for doing that. I think his heart, and those of the many people who commented on the video in appreciation, are in the right place.

With that being said, here’s my take on it:

Did he really save the dog’s life?

We have a boxer, later determined to have heart disease (no surprise there if you know boxers) who had a “seizure” according the owner, then collapsed and stopped breathing.

I am reasonably confident that the dog was not in cardiac arrest mostly due to this one simple fact: he’s still alive. CPR in pets has an abysmal success rate when done properly, which this wasn’t. The chances are, had the guy just sat there and comforted the dog and owner the dog would still have been up and about in a minute or two. It looks more like syncope than anything. In short, this dog was lucky.

So why does it matter? Why can’t you just let the guy bask in glory? What, you might ask, would you have done in this situation?

The 3 C’s of Pet Emergencies

In CPR classes, you are told to remember the CAB mnemonic (or ABC, if you took it prior to 2010).

  • C for circulation/chest compressions
  • A for ensuring a patent airway
  • B for breathing for the patient

Remember, CPR is meant to preserve the flow of oxygenated blood long enough for the patient to survive transport to a hospital in order to have the real life saving measures instituted. Getting to the hospital is the priority.

But because we are dealing with dogs and cats and not people, we don’t have the luxury of ambulances and 911. When our pet has an emergency, it’s on us to get them to the emergency hospital as soon as possible to assess the situation. So for pet owners, I propose the Emergency CCCs instead of ABCs:

1. CALM. You have to stay calm, which is very hard to do in an emergency. Chances are, you’re the one who’s going to have to drive the pet in and you want to both get there safely.

2. CALL. Have the emergency vet hospital phone number programmed and know where they are located so you don’t need to waste time looking for it in an emergency. The emergency vet staff is the closest you will get to a 911 dispatcher in terms of immediate advice and helping you stay calm. In addition, it is very helpful for the staff to know you are coming so they can prepare for your arrival, make sure the doctor doesn’t begin a non-emergency procedure, that sort of thing.

3. CAR. Time is of the essence. Don’t be messing around with CPR when you could be on the road. This is my major problem with this video- why the heck is the guy tapping on the dog’s chest instead of telling the owner to get her car? They’re wasting time with a dog who could be in atrial fibrillation on the verge of cardiac arrest! What’s that guy with the camera doing? Get the car keys!!

CPR is the fourth C in my book, to be instituted only after 1,2, and 3 are in place.

OK, so let’s say for argument’s sake that you have a driver, and you are in the back with your dog and you want to do CPR. As you know if you’ve done CPR training, it is forceful, fast, and assertive. It’s like trying to squish a tennis ball in the middle of a full suitcase- it takes force.

If you haven’t taken a pet first aid course, it’s a great idea. In the meantime, want to see CPR done right? Here you go:

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I spent a good chunk of time yesterday e-mailing back and forth with my friend Dr. Megan, who you may remember from the 2010 blogathon works as an emergency vet. Dr. Megan had the same reaction that I did (printed with permission):

“I’ve worked as an ER vet for 3 years. This was NOT CPR. CPR on an animal looks pretty much just like CPR on a person, only your patient is on their side while you are giving chest compressions. You have to push hard and fast enough to move blood through the heart.

They used to test us in vet school by placing a blood flow monitor in the cornea (weird, I know) while we were giving compressions. If we could get blood perfusing through that far away from the heart, we were doing it right. It takes a LOT more compression to do that than what this man was doing.

Since this is a boxer, I’m going to go out on a limb and guess he has heart disease (common in Boxers, they actually have their own special heart disease, Boxer Cardiomyopathy), and he had a syncopal, or fainting episode. He certainly wasn’t breathing at the beginning of the video, but I wouldn’t say that the man “administering CPR” saved his life. If anything, they just stimulated him to breathe by jostling around the vagus nerve. I have a feeling the dog would’ve regained consciousness on his own.

Secondly, it wasn’t wise to have the dog sit there so long after he had regained consciousness before getting him to a vet. Once he’s conscious and aware of his surroundings, they should’ve carried him to a car and driven him to the vet.”

Has anyone performed CPR on a pet? What would you have done in this situation?

Filed: Dogs, Health Tagged:
  • Cathey

    Thanks for the great info and emergency tips, Dr. V. There’s so much “information” on the internet that a person can’t tell what’s good and what’s not. When it comes to my girls, I want to know what has the best chance of saving their lives, not what makes a good video!

  • I have done CPR on my CPR dummy dogs and luckily haven’t had to employ the strategies on a real pet. I have almost had to help a dog while he was choking and was just about to help when he dislodged the item himself. I hope people don’t believe this video is how to perform CPR.

    • That’s the take home. If you’re going to do it, learn to do it right. Otherwise don’t bother wasting precious time.

  • Sedna

    You know, I’ve been wondering about that video for precisely the reason you said: “CPR in pets has an abysmal success rate when done properly”. And even in people, isn’t CPR intended to buy time for someone to show up with a defibrillator and shock the person back into rhythm? It’s not the instasave it is in TV.

    • You have it exactly right.

  • Umm…..I’m no emergency vet but even I could see that “CPR” the guy performed looked really, REALLY weird to me.

    Thanks for posting this. Gad.

  • Leigh

    The Red Cross offers a great pet First Aid course. Check with your local chapter for availability… I loved it.

    • Thank you for the link!

  • I saw this video on the NBC Nightly News last night and was aghast for many reasons. Thanks for putting words / details to what I thought might be the case.

  • i have thankfully not had to perform cpr on a dog but have done it on many people (yes, this is part of my job). one thing i encounter a lot is that people aren’t very skilled at understanding when someone does/doesn’t need it. many times people do chest compressions on someone who isn’t dead. luckily those people also tend to not do it correctly so it doesn’t do much except cause the victim some musculoskeletal pain, but still…

    i think the key for everyone, regardless of whether it is an animal or a human, is to know what you are trained to do and what you aren’t. and if you aren’t, then get someone who is – take the animal in the car or call 911 for the person.

    (stepping off my soap box now)… 🙂

  • oh, and one more thing – do not do not do not do mouth-to-mouth on people, especially if it is someone you don’t know. as dr. v mentioned, the breathing aspect has been put down to the bottom, and doing mouth-to-mouth on people has proven to be far less effective than doing effective compressions (once again first having the knowledge that the patient really is dead) and can end up meaning you get tested for transmission of whatever diseases the other person had.

    now i’m *really* stepping off my soap box now. 🙂

  • martina

    Excellent! Thanks for writing about this. I hope it helps everyone who ever has this type of pet emergency.

  • Tonya

    Thank you! One thing your post prompted me to do is store the number of the emergency vet hospital in my cell phone. I know where the hospital is, and I have my vet’s number and their 24-hour pager number stored in my phone. Don’t know why I never stored the hospital number. I would most certainly call them if I was on the way there, therefore wasting a couple of precious minutes looking for the number. (Although it is on a magnet on my refrigerator.)

    • That’s great! That made me happy. 😀

  • Kellee

    Great info, thanks!

  • I didn’t watch until the end but I find it bizarre that someone would be video taping and commentating as they did.

    • I know! I read somewhere that the trainer directed the person with the camera to start filming before he started the “CPR”, but I don’t know if that really happened or not.

  • Karen Shapiro

    Isn’t anyone else bothered that this trainer of 11 or so years doesn’t know CPR? I find this slightly troubling.

    • I was surprised as well. I tuned in expecting an awesome example of on-the-spot resuscitation….then, well, we all saw what happened.

  • Thanks for posting the real video on how to do CPR. I can’t help but think the other one is fake. It feels very ‘set up’ to me, easy to do if you know your dog has seizures.

  • Julie

    Thanks for all the information and tips. I will store the Emergency Vet # in my phone and figure out exactly where they are. There are 2 nearby and (knock wood), I haven’t had to use them but during an emergency is no time to be looking for directions online.

  • Thank you for posting this! You are right, that man did not perform CPR, and did a number of things very, very wrong. The dog survived *in spite* of what he did, not because of it. Sheesh. Very odd video, and while I hope it gets more people thinking about the need to learn first aid and CPR, I certainly hope they don’t try to learn those techniques from the video!

    I have my own business boarding & training dogs, and I also teach Pet CPR, First Aid, and Care (certified through Pet Tech). I encourage all pet owners and pet care professionals to learn not only CPR (which unfortunately usually won’t save a life, as previous posters have noted), but first aid, which may very well save a life, and also learn wellness care and how to detect and prevent problems so that many emergencies can be avoided.

    Thank you again for posting this!

    Eden Halbert
    Sierra Dogs

    • Very good point about differentiating first aid from CPR. Excellent point. If you ever want to do a guest post about this issue, let me know! I’d love to have you!

  • I haven’t actually seen either of these videos, so thank-you for posting. I have also tweeted this link because I think it’s very valuable.

    I agree with your post, as well. The “Three Cs” is more appropriate for pets.

    On a side note, however… Was the boxer in the video a boy called Sugar?

  • Hi Y’all,
    The site where I saw the video had a disclaimer/interview where the man made it very clear he did not know how to do CPR on a dog or otherwise.
    That said, I’ve always been told that getting a dog to a vet or emergency clinic is more important than any first aid, other than to use compression for severe bleeding. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a snake bite or wild animal encounter, quick contact with a trained vet should be top priority.

    BrownDog’s Momma

  • Amber

    I had to attempt CPR about 2 weeks after taking a course, on my cat. There are no e-vets in the area and it was 4 hours before the vet opened. We tried for 20 minutes before his heart just stopped.

    It was heartbreaking. He was our little buddy, and then he was just gone. 7% of human cases treated with CPR are successful, I knew when I started that the chances of saving him were slim, but I still tried until he couldn’t go anymore.

  • thank you for the great info, which I will post/link to on my blog… I never saw the man’s video, it just did not load, so lucky me. 🙂 great tips, as a good girl dog scout, always be prepared. My dog has been attacked on several occasions, thankfully none life threatening but a few weeks ago her eye was bleeding, kind of scary. with dogs though it is always one thing or another, them getting into stuff, aging issues, etc.

  • Thank you so much for posting this! The video you shared is really helpful – I’m glad that I can see the right way to do CPR (as opposed to whatever was going on in the first video).

  • Agustina

    Ah! I always wondered how CPR would work on my dog, what with his ribcage being all curvy and stuff. On his side! Makes perfect sense. Now if I could figure out how to seal my mouth around his entire snout…Off to research that Red Cross pet first aid link.

    Now, being an ER PA, I am quite good at human CPR, but in and of itself, it has a pretty abysmal success rate, too. And seeing CPR on TV drives me UP A WALL. Floppy arms, slow rate, what a mess! Let’s not even start with every.single.medical TV show having, at one point or another, shocked a flat line. It’s called a defibrillator because it defibrillates. It’s not called a de-PEA-ator, or a de-death-ator.

    Anyway, off my soap box and back to pets. Thanks for this very helpful post!

  • Sadly Sugar passed away 10 days after this event.

    I was quite put off by this video upon my first time watching it, and that was even before realizing the CPR was totally not CPR. Why would someone film an event like that? If I was in Sugar’s human’s place, I would tell that person to shut off the camera and go call for help. It all seemed incredibly strange to me.