Before starting her full-time writing business, Sarah worked with a top pet food company as a consultant to veterinarians conducting weekly classes on canine and feline nutrition for the doctors and staff.
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There’s nothing more terrifying than seeing your dog hurt. However, even after the danger has passed, there is another silent killer that dog owners often don’t recognize in the beginning stages.
After the trauma, it’s often the shock that kills. What’s even worse is that unless you know what to look for, you may miss the early symptoms.
Urgent medical care is required when your pup goes into shock, and recognizing the early warning symptoms will give you precious extra seconds to get your dog to a vet.
The term “shock” is often used incorrectly. It’s more than just the uncomfortable feeling after an accident.
Shock is actually a medical term for a loss of circulation. This means that your dog’s blood pressure becomes critically low and the brain and other vital organs aren’t getting enough blood.
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What Causes Shock?
Dogs go into shock for many reasons. Commonly it’s from some type of body trauma or blood loss due to a car accident or getting bitten by another animal.
However, shock can also be caused by heart failure, anaphylactic shock due to severe allergic reactions to insect stings or food, septic shock from infections and neurogenic shock from damage to the nervous system.
Dogs can also go into shock from excessive fluid loss due to vomiting and diarrhea, or airway obstructions caused by choking or an illness like pneumonia.
However, no matter what the underlying cause may be, it’s important to remember that any shock is a life-threatening emergency requiring veterinary intervention.
How to Recognize the Symptoms of a Dog in Shock
It’s important to understand the three main stages of shock in dogs so you can recognize what’s happening and get your dog to a vet before it progresses.
Here are some early warning signs your dog may be going into shock.
- The gums will be bright red.
- You will notice a rapid pulse. To check your dog’s pulse, palpitate the femoral artery with the tips of two fingers inside the thigh on the groin.
- Your dog may begin acting uneasy or anxious.
- They will start to exhibit shallow breathing.
- At this stage, the pulse is still easy to find.
Once your dog progresses further into shock, you will notice these symptoms develop.
- The heartbeat rises even higher.
- You will notice a pale or blue color to their gums, lips and eyelids.
- The pulse becomes more difficult to find.
- Your dog will begin to appear weak and lethargic.
- Their breathing may become more rapid and shallow, or remain normal.
- The legs, skin and mouth may suddenly cool.
- You may notice a lower rectal temperature, but depending on the cause of the shock, it may also may elevate or stay normal.
The final stages of shock before your dog goes unconscious will usually manifest in the following ways.
- The rectal temperature may drop critically low.
- The gums will look almost white or mottled.
- Your dog’s heart muscles will start to fail. The heart rate often elevates or becomes irregular, but may also remain normal or slow down.
- You will find that it’s difficult to locate a pulse. If you find one, it will feel very weak.
- The eyes will appear to glaze over or become unfocused with a fixed stare. Their pupils will also dilate.
- The respiration will change to slow and shallow or rapid and deep.
- Your dog may move from lethargy into a stupor or a coma.
Get Your Dog to a Vet ASAP
I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to take your dog to a vet at the first signs of shock. This is not the time to wait and see if they come out of it on their own.
Call your vet to let them know you’re coming and follow their directions. Shock symptoms can vary depending on the underlying trauma or disease.
Remember, look for and expect shock any time your dog suffers a serious injury. Quick action can save your dog’s life!
Life-Saving Emergency First Aid for Shock
Sometimes, what you do right after a trauma before you can get your dog to a vet can make all the difference in the outcome. After all, there aren’t many dog ambulances on call. You are often the first responder!
Not all of these procedures will apply, since shock is such a multifaceted reaction depending on the underlying cause behind it.
- Try to conserve your dog’s body heat by wrapping them in a blanket. Foil blankets are ideal.
- Restrain your dog and don’t let them run around.
- Protect fractures or sprains from further injury.
- Clean open wounds from debris with fresh, warm water. Then, cover the cuts with a clean, damp cloth.
- If your dog is losing blood quickly, apply pressure to wounds to either stop or restrain blood loss.
- Gently massage your dog’s body and legs to continue to keep the blood flowing and maintain circulation. However, don’t rub injured areas.
- Check your dog’s airway to ensure proper breathing. If the airway is blocked, clear it.
- Keep the dog as calm as possible. Talk to your pup softly and give reassurance calmly.
- Remember, your dog responds to your energy, so try to stay calm as well.
- If your dog becomes unconscious, make sure to keep the head level or slightly lower than the rest of the body. You can use a folded blanket under their rear for this treatment. You need to help blood flow to the brain.
- Take your dog to a vet immediately!
- If you can’t get to a vet physically, call one on the phone. They can offer more specific advice on what to do.
What NOT To Do To a Dog in Shock
Sometimes, the best intentions can cause more harm than good. Here are a few things you should not do to a dog experiencing shock symptoms.
- Don’t apply artificial heat. You can wrap them in a blanket, but don’t add a heat pad or outside heat source. Not only could it burn the dog, the heat could cause the blood vessels to dilate and demand more blood, further taxing an already stressed cardiovascular system.
- Don’t put water or food in your dog’s mouth. They could aspirate it into their lungs.
- Don’t give medication unless instructed by a veterinarian.
- Don’t allow them to run around. The dog may not yet feel the injury due to adrenaline. Moving around could increase internal bleeding and further compound injury. It also wastes precious energy the dog needs to fight the shock. This could be fatal!
- If your dog has been in a serious accident but appears normal, don’t assume all is well. The early stages of shock are difficult to see, and your dog can go downhill very quickly if things aren’t caught immediately and treated.
- Don’t assume that your dog will be friendly. Dogs in shock have low blood flow to their brain, so they aren’t themselves. They may lash out and bite. If this is the case, find a way to secure your dog’s mouth with muzzle. However, make sure it’s not so tight that the dog can’t breathe.
How To Perform CPR
If your dog becomes unconscious and you can’t detect a heartbeat, you need to perform CPR immediately to save your dog’s life.
- Call for help and see if you can get someone to help you drive your dog to the vet.
- Place the dog on their right side on a firm surface.
- Make sure the head and neck are aligned to create an open airway. Check to make sure the airway isn’t blocked with foreign matter. If you see something blocking the airway, clear it first.
- Pull the tongue forward so it’s not falling back in the throat. You may need to use your shirt to hold onto it.
- Put your face by the dog’s mouth and look, listen and feel for breathing.
- If the dog isn’t breathing, give four to five rescue breaths right away, letting the lungs deflate in between breaths. For a larger dog, hold the snout closed and breathe through the nose. On a smaller dog, your mouth will naturally seal around their nose and mouth.
- Breathe and watch the chest. It should slightly rise. Don’t overinflate the lungs.
- Find your dog’s pulse either through the femoral artery, the place where the elbow meets the chest or on their wrist. See the video below for more detailed explanation on finding the pulse.
- If you can’t get a pulse, put the dog’s elbow against the chest to find the heart. It will be where the elbow touches the chest. Then, move the leg out of the way and give 30 chest compressions per cycle, just like you would do in human CPR.
- After the 30 compressions, give two rescue breaths. Complete this cycle for about a minute, or four cycles, and then recheck for a heartbeat and breathing. Continue this until the dog recovers or you get to a veterinarian.
While it’s certainly very scary when your dog loses a pulse, many dogs can be brought back with CPR. Remember, ideally you want to give CPR in the car on your way to the veterinary hospital.
This video gives further insight on how to give CPR to your dog.
Video: How to Treat Shock in Dogs
This video shows the basic life-saving care you should administer to your dog on the way to the veterinarian. Remember, shock can cause irreparable damage or death in minutes, so it’s vital to get your dog to the vet immediately.
Remember, you don’t have to feel helpless if your dog goes into shock. You now know what to look for and how to perform preliminary life-saving actions. Remember, the most important thing you can do is get your dog to a veterinarian immediately. Don’t try to treat this yourself!
If an emergency happens, stay calm and follow these steps. They can help save your dog’s life!
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