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Cardiac Arrest in Dogs

Cardiopulmonary Arrest in Dogs

Dogs can experience cardiac arrest, also referred to as cardiopulmonary arrest or circulatory arrest, when their heart fails to contract effectively, leading to a halt in normal blood circulation. The respiratory and cardiovascular systems collaborate closely in the body. Hence, if a dog stops breathing for over six minutes, it can result in heart failure and ultimately cardiac arrest, which poses a fatal risk. This condition is not limited by age, sex, or breed, and can affect dogs across all demographics.

Symptoms and Types

If a dog resumes breathing within four minutes of the initial issue, blood circulation may remain unaffected. However, if the cessation of breathing persists beyond six minutes, it can precipitate cardiac arrest. Common symptoms indicative of this emergency situation include:

  • Dilated pupils
  • Spontaneous loss of consciousness (syncope)
  • Bluish discoloration of the skin and mucous membranes (cyanosis), signaling dangerously low oxygen levels in the blood
  • Heavy breathing (dyspnea) and gasping
  • Hypothermia
  • Lack of response to stimulation


The following are potential causes of cardiac arrest in dogs:

  • Insufficient oxygen levels in arterial blood (hypoxemia)
  • Reduced oxygen supply, potentially stemming from anemia
  • Heart diseases such as infections, inflammation, trauma, or neoplasia affecting the heart
  • Metabolic disorders
  • Electrolyte imbalances like hyperkalemia, hypocalcemia, or hypomagnesemia
  • Depleted bodily fluid levels
  • Shock
  • Administration of anesthetic drugs
  • Blood poisoning due to bacterial toxins in the bloodstream (toxemia)
  • Brain injuries
  • Electrical shock


Diagnosing cardiac arrest necessitates immediate veterinary intervention to evaluate the dog’s condition and determine appropriate treatment. Providing a detailed history of your dog’s health, including symptom onset and potential triggering incidents, is crucial. Your veterinarian will conduct a comprehensive physical examination, focusing on airway integrity, breathing patterns, and circulation. Continuous monitoring of blood pressure and pulse rate will be carried out.

Standard diagnostic procedures employed to identify the underlying cause of cardiac arrest encompass chest X-rays, complete blood count, biochemistry profile, and urinalysis. Blood samples are analyzed to assess gas levels, including oxygen. Dogs suspected of underlying heart disease may undergo echocardiography to assess the severity of the condition.


This critical situation demands immediate hospitalization and intensive nursing care and treatment. The foremost objective is to restore the dog’s heart rhythm and respiration rate, often necessitating cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

After clearing the trachea and initiating CPR, a tube may be inserted into the trachea to aid breathing, while oxygen may be administered to normalize blood oxygen levels. Dogs experiencing heart failure may require external cardiac massage to prompt normal heart function. If unresponsive to cardiac massage, rapid chest compressions may be administered. Typically, medications are administered to help regulate cardiac functions. In cases where medications fail, open chest resuscitation or direct administration of medications into the heart may be considered as a last resort.

Living and Management

The prognosis largely hinges on the underlying cause of the cardiac arrest and the effectiveness of treatment. Regrettably, fewer than 10 percent of dogs recover, even with successful emergency intervention.

If your dog’s condition stabilizes, it will require hospitalization for several days. During this time, the veterinarian will monitor cardiac functions, blood pressure, and address any additional complications that may arise.

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