Medford fire chief Dave Bierwiler says that about half of the fires his team responds to will involve an animal. Emergency response personnel have rescued and resuscitated dogs, cats, birds, "something larger than a gerbil", and even a great big snake. "People come first, but when we're doing our secondary search, when we're checking every nook and cranny, sometimes we'll find pets that have been overcome," he says. Firefighters administer oxygen with a face or snout mask so that the oxygen replaces the carbon monoxide in the blood, helping to revive an animal overcome by smoke. "It makes a huge difference when people have suffered such a loss if we can save their pet."
The typical pet owner isn't trained to handle medical emergencies that involve basic life support nor do they usually have oxygen on hand to help out a companion animal in distress. So what to do? The Southern Oregon Terriers Association recently organized a pet first aid class for their membership through the Southern Oregon Chapter of the American Red Cross.
Talk with your vet about how you can protect your pet from harm and how to administer first aid in an emergency. While the Southern Oregon Chapter of the American Red Cross does not currently offer a Medford class in pet first aid, a class may be scheduled if there is enough community interest. Call 541-779-3773 for details.
Ann Warren of Jacksonville registered for the class because she has two beloved terriers who have seen her through some tough times: "I want to take care of Tucker and Bridey the best way I can and do everything I can to keep them with me as long as I can."
Responsible dog owners know full well that proper care of their dogs includes not only routine vet care, nutrition, training and exercise, but also emergency first aid including CPR. Emergency first aid might make the difference between life and death for your pet, giving you precious time to get to the vet.
Your pet's heart may stop if it experiences trauma: being hit by a car, gunshot, drowning or fire, according to Dr. Liana Dallmann, a veterinarian with All Creatures Animal Hospital in Eagle Point. "There is a golden minute to five minutes for small animals where immediate aid could really make a difference."
"If you find that an animal is not breathing or doesn't have a pulse, it's the same as humans — you do the ABC — airway, breathing, circulation," Ann recalls from class. According to Dr. Dallmann, if your pet's heart isn't beating, that's the time to think about CPR.
For any animal, Dr. Dallmann suggests that the best way to check for a pulse is to feel the chest for a beating heart. On a dog or a cat, the heartbeat can be felt on the side of the chest, near the "elbow joint" of the front leg of the animal. But take care! An animal that you think may be non-responsive can jump up and attack. "Even if it's your own dog they can bite you even if they never have before because they're in pain," warns Dr. Dallmann.
Just as the recommendations for human CPR are changing to emphasize chest compressions over an alternating pattern of chest compression and lung inflation, chest compressions also make sense to help an animal whose heart has stopped. How the chest compressions are administered depend on the size and species of the animal and the number of compressions differ according to the animal's heart rate. "In a small animal, you have to pump a lot more and you may not have time to give them a breath," explains Dr. Dallmann. "Even a 50-pound dog will need 60 beats a minute — that's one pump a second. You have to do the heart thing first and if you're only one person then [chest compression is] definitely more important than getting the breath in." Talk to your vet about what's right for your specific animal.
CPR may be a stretch for some when it comes to their pets, and can be dangerous if administered by an untrained person. But emergency first aid? — it's one more way for Ann Warren to protect her animal companions and keep them in her life for a long time to come. "Tucker and Bridey give so much love and don't ask a lot back; they're my best friends" Ann smiles. "They make me happy to wake up in the morning and make me happy to come home."