A new Associated Press-Petside.com poll reveals that 63 percent of dog owners and 53 percent of cat owners surveyed would be at least "somewhat likely" to perform CPR on their pets in the event of an emergency. But undoubtedly the number of people who'd actually know how to do it is a lot smaller. When does chest compression go from a life-saving technique to bone snapping that would speed death instead of prevent it? And, um, how do you make a tight seal for mouth-to-mouth resuscitation if you're trying to save a chihuahua? Or a Great Dane? And should either of you take a breath mint first?
There's actually a way for Denverites to solve these mysteries. The Colorado chapter of the American Red Cross has been offering a highly unusual class in pet CPR -- not that most people knew it. Local Red Cross spokesman Jim Rettew calls the sessions "an undiscovered gem." As for why the Red Cross offers this service, as opposed to, say, the American Humane Society, he says, "A lot of the same skills you need in human CPR are relevant in pet CPR."
There are variations, of course. In fact, mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on pets is a misnomer, since "you're actually breathing into your pets nose, not its mouth," Rettew says. "Think of dogs with long snouts. Air would leak out if you tried to match up your mouths. So what you do is close the mouth up so there's a tight seal and then blow into the nose." But other CPR elements are quite similar, he goes on: "You would try to find the sternum on your pet just as you would with a human. You'd watch for the sternum to fall and try to hit that sweet spot while doing compression."
The Heimlich maneuver translates in much the same way. "For choking, well, it depends on the size of the dog or cat," Rettew concedes. "But a lot of the time, you'll be doing back blows and all the things you'd be doing on a human."
The class gives tips on other medical-care issues related to pets as well, including how to deal with cuts, contusions and bee stings -- and what's the best way to get them to swallow pills, which can be a nightmare, as proven by the scratches on my arm from my cat, Cher. But CPR is arguably the trickiest skill to learn. For instance, Rettew concedes that "in some cases, you are going to injure the animal -- but the alternative could be that your pet is going to die. It's the same as with human CPR as well. You may break a rib, but if you bring that person back to life, it's certainly worth your while."
Size matters, too. "If you have a cat as big as Garfield, it'll be a little more difficult, just as it can be harder to work on a human who's overweight," Rettew allows. "You may have to do things a little more forcefully, or you may have to pick a different spot. These are all questions we answer in class" with the assistance of dog and cat mannequins that will give attendees a hands-on feel for the task.
If there's another course like this one in Colorado, Rettew hasn't heard about it -- and he's hoping that the attention garnered by the new poll will inspire more folks to sign up for the next session: 6 p.m. November 11 at the Red Cross' 444 Sherman Street office. (Click here for the details.)
"For a really devoted group of people, this is an important endeavor to undertake," he says. "If people really want to be there for their pets, this is a way to do it."
Keeping some Tic-Tacs on hand might be a good idea, too.