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Drowning View In Dogs

First Aid Condition

First aid health condition




Condition Overview

Although most dogs are good swimmers, drowning can occur if a dog swims too far out and becomes fatigued, falls through ice, is caught in a flood, or is unable to climb out of a swimming pool.


Signs of oxygen deprivation (called hypoxia) are extreme anxiety, straining to breathe, and gasping for air (often with the head and neck extended), followed by loss of consciousness as the pet succumbs.


While in water, if the pet were to loose strength and slip under water, they will breathe water into their lungs, which damages the lungs, prevents oxygen intake, and can lead to suffocation.


Pets who have drowned will sometimes drift onto dry ground, so it is not always obvious what has happened. Look at the lips, the rims of the eyes, or the gums. In drownings, the lack of oxygen makes these tissues gray or blue instead of the usual pink, a condition called cyanosis.


The first step in treating drowning is to remove water from the dogs lungs

  1. Hold the dog upside down by his middle (hold a small dog by his back legs) and allow as much water as possible to run out of his mouth. If possible, have someone thump briskly on both sides of the chest for 10 - 15 seconds. Sometimes, this is all it takes to restart breathing.

    If your dog is too large to lift, put her on her side, making sure that her head is lower her than her tail. Put the heel of your hand in the dip behind the last set of ribs and thrust upward sharply toward her head 3 or 4 times. Wait 1 - 2 seconds to see if water comes out between thrusts. Don't spend more than 1 minute doing this, because the lungs absorb water very quickly.
  2. Quickly position the dog on his right side with his head lower than his chest. This can be accomplished by placing a blanket or coat beneath the dogs hindquarters.
  3. Begin artificial respiration
  4. Check for a pulse. If there is no pulse, begin CPR. Continue until the dog breathes on his own or until no pulse if felt for 10 minutes.
Dogs who drown in cold water are often hypothermic and can sometimes be resuscitated even through they have been under water for a considerable time.

Veterinarians can get a heart beating again with an injection of epinephrine. If your pet has drowned, her heart has stopped, and you are not able to get to a veterinarian in time, you may be able to get a similar effect by trying an acupuncture technique. If your pet is unconscious and his heart has stopped, stick a needle or safety pin into the slit in the upper lip beneath your pet's nose. Insert it down to the bone, then wiggle it back and forth. This stimulates the body to release adrenalin, a natural substance which is very similar to epinephrine.


Keep pets away from dangerous bodies of water, and allow swimming only when someone can supervise the activity.

Some pet's can't stay away from water even if they have had close calls in the past. Swimming pools and hot tubs are especially dangerous because pets can jump or fall in, but the sides are too high or steep for them to climb out. They may also get trapped underneath pool covers. Veterinarians recommend putting something conspicuous, like a patio table or a potted plant near the steps leading out of the pool. This will help pets find their way out if they get disoriented.

Dogs and cats who go sailing need the same protection people do. The U.S. Coast guard recommends always using a pet life vest. Many of these vests also have built in grab straps on the top of the back that allow for an easy rescue in the even of an emergency.


Following resuscitation, the pet should be seen and treated by a veterinarian. Inhalation pneumonia is a frequent complication.

After your pet starts breathing, dry her off and wrap her in a blanket or towel. It is important to know how chilled she is, so use a rectal thermometer lubricated with petroleum jelly to quickly but gently take her temperature. Most pets drown in water that is colder than their body temperatures, and the resulting chill makes the organs work less efficiently and slows recovery.

A pet whose core body temperature has been below 90F for more than 30 minutes needs to be re-warmed from the inside out, using special medical techniques that only a vet can perform. Trying to re-warm the pet yourself in this situation can be dangerous. If your pet's temperature is less than 90F and has probably been this low for longer than 30 minutes, DO NOT apply external heat sources. Keep her wrapped in a blanket, put her in a heated car, and get her to the vet quickly.

If the vet is more than 30 minutes away or your pet's temperature has dropped below 90F within the past 30 minutes, you should apply external heat. Wrap a hot water bottle in a towel and apply it to her belly or the insides of her thighs, where large arteries are near the surface. This warms the blood, which then helps the rest of the body.

Pets who are chilled burn alot of energy trying to stay warm and will quickly deplete their body's blood sugar. You can replenish it almost instantly by dipping you finger in honey, Karo syrup, or sugar water and rubbing it on their gums.

Show Sources & Contributors +


Dog Owners Home Veterinary Handbook

Publisher: Wiley Publishing, 2007

Website: http://www.wiley.com/WileyCDA/

Authors: Debra M. Eldredge, Liisa D. Carlson, Delbert G. Carlson, James M. Giffen MD

The First Aid Companion for Dogs And Cats

Publisher: Rodale Inc, 2001

Website: http://www.rodalebooks.com/

Authors: Amy D. Shojai, Shane Bateman DVM

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