K9 CPR prerequisites: three core pillars

Right now, there is not enough data to give you an interesting statistical fact in regards to trauma in our dogs and how that coincides with the mortality rate in the prehospital period of care.

I can, however, give you a definition.

Prehospital Period: The time where aid is administered to a patient directly after any episode of trauma, injury, or medical condition and the continued aid administered during transport to higher or definitive care.

And I can give you this simple fact: there is no 911 or EMTs, or emergency medical services for our dogs. And I know many of you here adventure remotely, so maybe you have already thought this through, or worse… experienced this unfortunate truth firsthand.


I know this is really uncomfortable to think about and/or revisit if you have already found yourself in these unfortunate circumstances. But any time I feel discomfort with a concept I know there is opportunity for growth in that. The uncomfortable emotions and feelings indicate that there is something very important to be learned.


And as you read this you might feel some anxiety, your heart rate might go up a little bit, you might feel a lack of confidence, or even a wave of helplessness. It is normal to feel this way. If you are here reading this, I know you want the very best for your dog. I know you would do everything in your power to keep him or her safe and take the necessary action in an emergency situation.


Maybe one day we will have formal prehospital care or emergency medical services for our dogs, but in the meantime we as dog owners outta step up to the plate and do everything in our power to be a competent and capable first responder.


I understand what it feels like to be rendered helpless when there is something going inside of your dog that is outside of your control. My childhood dog had syncope, where she was collapsing and going unconscious momentarily due to her end stage heart disease. Walter had seizures when he was a puppy….


I also understand how intimidating this might seem, and as a practicing veterinarian, every exam room I enter I am educating clients on the health and wellness of their dogs. My clients have been some of my best teachers in that they require me to reframe and reword concepts so that they are easily understood.

So, let me tell you that even the most complex medical concepts and diagnosis can be broken down into digestible pieces that results in a better understanding of the overall disease process. And you, my friend, can be given a plan. Something to do in the meantime to ensure the best chance of success for your pup. You can be given a roadmap so you know exactly what to do in an emergency situation.


And that is where we need to understand cardiopulmonary arrest, and then properly implement cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or CPR.

Because the fact of the matter is, is that sometimes there are things you can do in a moment of crisis. There ARE actions you can take. Think of them of them as the most critical opportunities YOU CANNOT MISS.  You CAN regain some of that control.


But you need to start right now.


There are certain scenarios where canine CPR saves lives.


But there are three concepts or core pillars that you must understand and be aware of if you want the best chance of success.

Some of these might sound overly simplistic, but please do not discredit them. I have seen these issues firsthand and that is why we must bring this to your attention before we proceed.


1) The first pillar is first and foremost recognizing the need for CPR… Again, do not discredit this. In a moment of panic recognizing the need can be a real challenge.

For example, is the patient actually in cardiopulmonary arrest? Or not?  If you have never seen it, you might be uncertain.  Even if you have seen it you might be uncertain because there is so much variation from case to case. This probably is the most important point.


2) The second pillar? Following the appropriate and currently recommended protocol and technique. This one is a little easier to fix.  Armed with the knowledge and the recommended technique, along with practice and study you can feel assured that you are prepared for anything. The caveat to this? The recommendations for appropriate technique and protocol can change. So, you must continually renew and refresh your current knowledge on the subject matter.


3) The third pillar?? Is addressing you. You need to have the ability to think clearly and make quick and accurate decisions. This can be solved first and foremost by taking action now. Meaning, familiarize yourself with CPR, especially the foreign and unfamiliar concepts. The more time you spend inside the concepts the more comfortable you start feeling. The more confidence you gain. With this competence and capability also follow suit.


And I want you to remember this VITAL TRUTH: that in these scenarios your brain is your most valuable resource.  IF you have planned ahead by doing the important work beforehand. Because we are talking about a situation where literally every single second counts, and when these seconds add up to minutes, we are talking life or death.


Even if you never need these techniques (and I pray that you never ever do!) learning these concepts will, again, boost your confidence in most all situations and scenarios. You might find you feel more confident treating and addressing other k9 first aid ailments after taking the time to fully understand and practice CPR. Every little bit you learn counts, nothing is wasted.  And it trickles over to other subject matters as it deepens your overall understanding of canine physiology, anatomy, triage, and emergency procedures. Think of the ripple effect here.


And in this moment, I want you to envision yourself successfully implementing the A-B-C quick assessment of CPR immediately instead of grabbing your phone because you need to look it up or make a phone call.

And I want you to envision a successful outcome, the returned heartbeat, and the moment your dog takes a breath because of YOUR actions. Because you didn’t have to waste precious time googling or YouTubing canine CPR when time was of the most critical essence.


And finally, some tough love. Not having this knowledge is nearly inexcusable this day and age. The resources are out there. You just have to take the initiative to utilize them.


And… PLEASE don’t find yourself in a moment of regret where “you wished” you had taken that CPR course... because the consequences can be catastrophic.


The alternative to that? … that no matter the outcome, if you knew what to do and how to act appropriately at least you know in your heart you were prepared and that you gave it your all.

So, don’t take this blog post likely. A lot of us are control freaks… ESPECIALLY when it comes to our beloved dogs- raise your hand if you can relate! This is one critical concept that will help you regain your control.

Even if you are already familiar with canine CPR… let this post be a reminder to you as to why it is so important in the first place. And not only that, to stay current with your knowledge and skills and to realize that the current recommendations do change!


So stay tuned, because in the coming weeks we will be providing opportunities for you to learn how to perform the most effective CPR, and not only that- but how to quickly and accurately diagnose cardiopulmonary arrest. 

The details are soon to come!! 

Libbie Fort, DVM













Thank you for the great post and offering a course of this very helpful information.

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