Pet Columns, Office of Public Engagement, College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Emergency Medicine Leaps to the Other Side


Pet Column for the week of March 11, 2002


Office of Public Engagement
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
Phone: 217/333-2907
Jennifer Stone
Information Specialist

Most people have seen emergency medical techniques practiced on television but how many of us have ever had to spring into action during an emergency situation? Of those that have, how many have actually had emergency medical training such as CPR? Emergency medical training is a skill that everyone should have, but the surprising fact is that the same techniques that can be used on humans can also be used on our pets.

Dr. Steven Marks, a veterinarian formerly with the University of Illinois Veterinary Medicine Teaching Hospital is a firm believer in emergency medicine. He says, "Emergency and critical care veterinary medicine is a rapidly growing area that the University of Illinois Teaching Hospital is trying to expand. We are hoping to develop it into a center of excellence with the help of our dedicated staff of emergency medicine clinicians."

There is a strong incentive to improve emergency medical assistance that actually extends beyond the field of veterinary medicine. There is a nationwide push to improve emergency care and it has manifested itself in some seemingly unlikely places. Dr. Marks says, "These days if you board an airplane, you should look around. More than likely you will see a sign with a heart and a lightning bolt on it next to the standard first aid kit. This tells you there is a defibrillator on board used to help people who are suffering from cardiopulmonary arrest (heart attack)."

But how does all of this pertain to veterinary medicine? The fact is that the same life-saving techniques that are now routinely taught to people during CPR classes were originally developed experimentally in animals for use in humans. This means that these techniques can also be used to save the lives of animals in emergency situations. For instance, mouth-to-mouth resuscitation can be modified to mouth to nose resuscitation to save a dog that has stopped breathing. The technique is slightly different, but the concept is exactly the same as it is for humans.

"At the University of Illinois, we are training our students in CPR for animals, and we would like to encourage the community to learn these techniques as well", says Dr. Marks. So how should you go about getting trained in CPR and emergency first aid for animals? Dr. Marks recommends taking a basic human CPR class because what works for humans can work for animals too. There are also several books on the subject which may help you to learn what to do in the event of an emergency with your pet, including one that is published by the Humane Society and the American Red Cross called Pet First Aid & Cats and Dogs. Finally, there are some communities that actually offer short classes on first aid and emergency procedures for pets. A canine manikin named "Jerry" the resuscitation-dog (similar to the human Resusci-Annie doll that is used in CPR classes) has even been developed for use in animal CPR classes.

The use of CPR and other first aid techniques can save lives, but sometimes even the best treatment cannot prevent the inevitable. Especially with animals, a catastrophic event such as cardiopulmonary arrest is often the end result of long-standing disease, which has taken its toll on the heart and other organs. Dr. Marks says, "While emergency first aid can save lives, it is important to remember that it may not be successful in all cases."

If you are interested in learning more about emergency first aid in animals, contact your local community center to see if they have a class, look for books on the subject, or contact your local veterinarian.