URBANA — When a person's heart stops, emergency responders don't have to guess which way is the best to administer CPR.
But up until now, there haven't been any real guidelines for the best way to resuscitate a dog or cat suffering cardiac arrest.
"It was just, 'This is what we think you should do,'" says Dr. Maureen McMichael, head of emergency medicine at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital.
But pets may have a better chance in the future.
Earlier this month, McMichael and fellow researchers helped establish the first set of evidence-based recommendations to resuscitate dogs and cats with stopped hearts.
Dogs and cats don't suffer heart attacks the way people do, McMichael said. But their hearts do stop sometimes, because they're at the end of a long illness, suffering a seizure or involved in a trauma.
Consequently, the majority of pet CPR is administered in a veterinarian's office or clinic, she said.
Rarely is a dog revived by an owner, though, she adds, "we have had a couple of cases where the owner has done CPR and brought the dog back."
Sometimes the owners have used breathing and sometimes just chest compressions, she said.
First responders will likely be retrained with the new pet CPR guidelines, McMichael said.
However, more dog owners are also expressing an interest in knowing how to resuscitate their dogs these days in the event of cardiac arrest, because there are more dogs being trained for service and work tasks.
In developing the new guidelines, researchers surveyed veterinarians about how they treat dogs and cats in cardiac arrest and found a wide variation in practices, according to the University of Pennsylvania College of Veterinary Medicine, which led the research along with Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine.
There were more than 100 board-certified veterinarians recruited to assist with the research, according to a Penn news release.
Among the new recommendations are for CPR to be administered with the animal lying on its side, at a rate of 100 to 120 chest compressions per minute, the same rate that works for people.
McMichael said breathing in dog and cat CPR is done through a tube and, under the new guidelines, at a slower rate than has been done in veterinary practice.
The new guidelines also call for how to do CPR on dogs of different breeds and sizes, how to train clinicians and which drugs to administer.
McMichael said some studies involving CPR and people were applicable in this research, because dogs and cats are often used to see what will work on people.
The recommendations were published June 7 in Journal of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care.