Saving Sparky: Lessons on dog CPR

Red Cross class teaches Fairbanks residents how to save their pets

Posted: Tuesday, January 19, 2010

FAIRBANKS - Carol Scott hopes she never has to perform CPR on her dog, Tarka, but after attending a first-aid course that covered dog CPR, at least she'll know how.

John Wagner / Fairbanks Daily News-Miner
John Wagner / Fairbanks Daily News-Miner

"I wouldn't have known for sure if I was doing it right," said Scott, who has taken human CPR courses. "It's nice to see it. It's nice to know you can do it."

Using a large, brown, black and white stuffed dog with floppy ears named Bernie - the local Red Cross chapter doesn't have a Resuce Rover, as official training dummies are called - laid out on a table in front of her, instructor Kristi Davis demonstrated proper canine CPR techniques to about two dozen people who attended the three-hour Red Cross class Saturday at the Alpine Dog Training Center on Badger Road. The class was sponsored by the Tanana Valley Kennel Club.

Dog CPR isn't much different than doing it on a person, Davis told the class as she stood over Bernie.

"It is so similar to adult CPR it's not funny," said Davis, a kennel club board member who teaches human CPR courses as part of her job at the Fairbanks Resource Agency.

With that, she flipped Bernie on his right side - a dog's heart is on its left side, just like a human - and began to demonstrate what to do with a dog that is unconscious and possibly not breathing.

"You want the neck and head tilted back as straight as possible," she said. "Open the mouth and check to see if there is something in the airway.

"Pull the tongue forward to open the airway," Davis continued. "Check to see if the dog is breathing. Look, listen and feel like you do with a human."

At that point, you cup the dog's nose and mouth in your hands and breathe into the dog's nose, she said. The technique is referred to as "rescue breathing" and should be used every three to five seconds while checking to see if the dog is breathing. If the dog is not breathing and has no pulse, you begin CPR, she said. The best place to check the pulse is an artery on the inside of the left leg. Davis said.

"You don't want to give compressions if there is a pulse," she said. "The dog might just have a blocked airway, and you need to get the airway opened."

A dog's heart is located just behind the bend of its left elbow and that's where compressions should be performed, Davis said. Just like in humans, place one hand over the other and lock elbows to give compressions, she said.

"If there are two people, you're going to have one person doing breaths while the other person is doing compressions," she said.

For most dogs, the rule of thumb is one breath then five compressions if there is one rescuer or one breath then three compressions if there are two people. For dogs weighing more than 90 pounds, the rule is one breath then 10 compressions for one person or one breath then six compressions for two people.

"If you're off by one or two compressions it's not a life and death thing," Davis told the class.

Compressions should be quick, two or three every second, and should compress the dog's rib cage 1 to 3 inches. On small dogs, it's best to put one hand under the dog's rib cage and use both hands to compress the chest cavity so as not to risk breaking any ribs, Davis said.

Dale Anderson, a recreational dog musher and one of only two men attending the class, said he has taken human CPR classes and attended an all-day emergency dog care clinic, but he figured he might pick something up at Saturday's class.

"I've always said if you're going to have dogs you better know how to take care of them," said Anderson, who has 13 sled dogs.

Saturday's course covered more than CPR, touching on everything from treating wounds and fractures to choking, hypothermia, heat stroke and poisoning.

Students learned such tricks as how to perform the Heimlich maneuver on a choking dog (just like you do on a person - wrap your arms around the dog underneath its front legs, jam your fist into its chest just below the ribs and squeeze five times); how to cool a dog that is overheating (by using ice packs and pouring cool water over it); how to warm a dog that is hypothermic (wrap it in a blanket and apply warm compresses); and how to induce vomiting in a dog if it eats or drinks something that is harmful (pour hydrogen peroxide down its throat).

Lisa Vaughn, who owns two border collies, said she attended the clinic because she "figured it would be a good way to brush up on what to do in an emergency.

"It's a good way to learn a little bit more," she said.

Vaughn, 49, actually used the Heimlich maneuver on a dog she was baby-sitting 20 years ago when the dog was choking on Milk Bone.

"I gave several sharp jerks and that cookie went flying," Vaughn said. "The dog wouldn't have anything to do with me for the rest of the week, but it was OK."

Emily Bernhardt, a skijorer with seven huskies, was hoping the class would be more in-depth but said it was worth the $10 fee.

"This gives you more confidence so you can react quicker, which is important," she said, echoing Scott's remarks. "It answered some questions for me."

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