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208 Breeds, 422 Health Conditions  |  Find a Vet

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Unconsciousness View In Dogs

First Aid Condition

First aid health condition




Condition Overview

Anything that affects the blodflow to the brain or disrupts the normal actions of the central nervous system can cause a pet to loose consciousness.


The pet will be unresponsive to stimulus, in a sleep-like state.


Low blood sugar, especially in puppies and toy breed dogs, is common cause. Trauma (like being hit by a car or falling from a tree) is the most common cause of unconsciousness. Extremes of body temperature, poisoning, drowning, choking, or metabolic diseases like diabetes and kidney failure can also leave a pet unconscious.


Diagnosis is made by evaluating symptoms.


An unconscious pet is always a medical emergency, but first aid can help keep her alive until you reach medical help.

  1. Remove your pet's collar - a collar can sometimes interfere with breathing, so its a good idea to take it off your pet right away.
  2. Check for breathing and a heartbeat - Open your pet's mouth and gently pull her tongue forward to be sure there is an open airway. You may need to use a dry cloth to get a good grasp on her wet tongue. Determine if your pet's heart has stopped by taking her pulse. Press your fingertips into the crease where the inside of the thigh meets the body and feel for the pulse in the femoral artery, which is very big and near the surface. If you can't feel it, try listening of feeling for the heartbeat. Put your ear or hand flat against your pet's left side directly behind the elbow. If you can't find a pulse or heartbeat, you will have to perform CPR.
  3. Elevate your pet's head - Keep her head slightly elevated as long as she is unconscious. Keeping her head up on a folded towel with her neck extended helps with her breathing and blood flow. Don't let her head dangle off the car seat.
  4. Watch for vomiting - An unconscious dog or cat won't be able to stop herself from inhaling material if she vomits. This can be deadly, so watch to be sure that she doesn't vomit. If she does, position her head and neck at a downward angle to allow the material to flow away from the airway.
  5. Keep movement to a minimum - Move your pet as little as possible when transporting her to the animal hospital. Often, a pet found unconscious may have internal injuries or even trauma to the neck or back that could be aggravated by movement. You can use a blanket or large bath towel as a makeshift stretcher. One person should grasp you pets shoulders and head while the other person handles the hips, then quickly slide her onto the blanket. A board will also work. This will keep your pet from being jarred when she is carried. With small pets, you can use a pet carrier, cookie sheet, or even the lid of a trash can.

If you suspect electrical shock - If you think your pet is unconscious from chewing an electrical cord, disconnect the source of electricity before you touch her. The safest way to cut the power is through the main circuit board. If you are unsure of where it is or you can't get to it quickly, you will have to knock the electrical cord out of contact with the pet using a piece of wood, wooden broom, or a plastic rod.

For smoke inhalation or carbon monoxide poisoning - When smoke or other air contaminants like carbon monoxide are affecting your pet, move her into fresh air. This may be all that is needed to wake her up.

If you pet may have drowned - Unconscious pets found in or near water may be victims of drowning. Hold your pet upside down - grasp small pets by the hind legs and larger ones around the hips - and swing or shake her for 10 seconds to get rid of any water in the lungs. If another person is available, have them thump sharply on both sides of your pet's chest while she is upside down.

If there is something stuck in your pet's throat - Look inside your pet's mouth to see if the unconsciousness is caused choking. Often, a stick or toy lodges in the back of the throat and interferes with breathing so much that the pet passes out. If you see an object and its within reach, use your fingers, pliers, or tongs to pull it out.

If you can't reach or get a grip on the object, a modified Heimlich maneuver can pop the obstruction out of your pets throat. This can also help empty water from the lungs of drowned dogs who are too big to hold upside down.

Hold a small pet with her back against you stomach, her head up, and her feet hanging down. Put your fist into the hollow place directly under her ribs and pull up and inward toward your chin with a sudden thrusting action. Put a larger dog on her side and kneel behind her with your knees against her back. Lean over to fit your fist into the hollow beneath the ribs and push sharply up and in toward the dog's head and your knees. Quickly repeat the Heimlich maneuver 2 or 3 times, then see if the object has come loose. If there is still a blockage, you can continue the maneuver in the car while someone drives you to the veterinarian.

If your pet's heart is beating but she is not breathing - Pets who have stopped breathing will need artificial respiration to keep them alive until you can get medical attention.

If your pet's heart is still beating but she's not breathing, start artificial respiration. Make sure that her airway is clear - rescue breathing will not help if it isn't. Then wrap your hands around your pet's muzzle to seal her lips closed and put your mouth over her nose. Blow in with 2 quick breaths, watching to see her chest expand, then pull your mouth away to let the air escape back out. Give 15 - 20 breaths per minute until your pet starts breathing again on her own or you reach the veterinarian. Watch for her reactions because if she regains consciousness, she may bite you out of fear.

If you pet's heart had stopped and she is not breathing - You must give artificial respiration and perform chest compressions. It is best to have someone drive you and your pet to the vet while you are performing CPR.

For cats and small dogs, cup your hand over the point of the chest just behind the elbows and squeeze firmly between your fingers and thumb, pressing in about 1/2 inch, about 80 - 100 times a minute. Give a breath into the nose after every 5 compressions until your pet revives or until you reach medical help.

For a larger dog, put her on her side on a firm, flat surface. Put both hands on top of each other against the chest and compress by 25 - 50%. Alternate a breath for every 5 compressions.

Stop CPR every minute to check for a pulse or breathing. If the heart starts again, stop the compressions, but continue artificial respiration until she breathes again on her own or you reach help.

If you suspect shock - Pets often become unconscious from shock, which can develop from any traumatic injury. If your pet is going into shock, she will be woozy and weak. She will have difficulty standing and may not be aware of her surroundings. In addition, her gums will first turn dark pink or red, then become pale in 5 - 10 minutes as oxygen levels fall. A cat's gums are normally more pale than a dog's and will look gray, white, or very pale if she is in shock. Shock can kill a pet in as little as 10 - 20 minutes, and she will need immediate veterinary care to survive. Wrap her in a blanket to keep her warm (which can slow down the shock process) then drive her to the clinic. You can also put a drop or two of Karo syrup or honey on your pets gums to help keep her conscious.

If your pet has had seizures - Prolonged seizures can also cause unconsciousness. Seizures burn an enormous store of calories, which can cause your pet's body temperature to rise. Turn on the air conditioner in the car on the way to the clinic and wrap your pet in cold, damp towels to transport her.

If your pet has been exposed to extreme heat - Anything that overheats your pet could cause unconsciousness. A pet who is exposed to extremely hot weather or becomes trapped in a clothes dryer, can suffer heat stroke.

If your pet is unconscious, call the veterinary clinic to tell them that you are on the way, and let them know how high your pet's temperature is - that will tell the veterinarian exactly what type of emergency treatment your pet will need. Then rush her off to the animal hospital.

Make sure that your car is cool for the trip, and try to grab a bottle of rubbing alcohol, some ice, and a few wet washcloths on your way out the door. Position your pet in front of the air vent to achieve as much evaporation as possible. Try to cool her on the way by applying ice and alcohol to her armpits and groin. Before putting ice on the skin, place a wet washcloth on the area, then put the ice on top of the cloth. It is safest to do this while someone else drives you to the clinic.

If your pet has been exposed to extreme cold - A cold body temperature can also lead to unconsciousness when pets have hypothermia. A pet who had a temperature of 90F or less for more than 30 minutes (severe hypothermia) needs immediate medical attention. Make sure that your pet is dry, then wrap her in a blanket and go to the veterinarian as soon as possible. Monitor her breathing and heartbeat on the way and administer artificial respiration and CPR if necessary.

If your pet's temperature has been 90F or below for less than 30 minutes or your vet is less than 30 minutes away, you need to try to warm her before leaving the house. Use hot water bottles or fill empty plastic soda bottles with hot water. Wrap each bottle in a thick towel so that it won't burn your pet, then put them in the armpits and groin, where large arteries lie near the skin. This helps re-warm the blood, which then circulates to rewarm the whole body.


Prevention varies by precipitating cause.


For choking victims, you will need to feed a soft diet for a day or two until the sore throat heals. Soften your pet's regular food with water or low-fat, no-salt chicken broth and run it through a blender.

Metabolic problems like kidney failure or diabetes may require special diets or medications. Injuries from car accidents, drowning, or electrocution often require that pets be hospitalized for tests and supportive care until they are out of danger. The specific follow-up care depends on what caused the unconsciousness.

Show Sources & Contributors +


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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