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Cardiac Arrest in Dogs


Cardiopulmonary Arrest in Dogs


Cardiac arrest (also known as cardiopulmonary arrest or circulatory arrest) occurs when normal blood circulation ceases due to the heart's inability to contract (heart failure). Like many other body systems, the respiratory and cardiovascular systems work in a coordinated fashion. Therefore, if a dog fails to breathe for more than six minutes, it can lead to heart failure and cardiac arrest -- both of which can be fatal. Cardiac arrest can occur in dogs of any age, sex, or breed.


Symptoms and Types


Blood circulation may remain intact if the animal resumes breathing within four minutes of the initial problem. However, if it lasts longer than six minutes it can lead to cardiac arrest. Common symptoms associated with this emergency include:


  • Dilated pupils
  • Spontaneous loss of consciousness (syncope)
  • Bluish discoloration of the skin and mucous membranes (cyanosis); a sign that oxygen in the blood is dangerously diminished
  • Heavy breathing (dyspnea) and gasping
  • Hypothermia
  • Lack of response to stimulation




  • Abnormally low levels of oxygen in arterial blood (hypoxemia)
  • Low oxygen supply; possible due to anemia
  • Heart disease (e.g., infections, inflammation, trauma, neoplasia of heart)
  • Metabolic diseases
  • Electrolyte imbalances (e.g., hyperkalemia, hypocalcemia, hypomagnesemia)
  • Abnormally low bodily fluid levels
  • Shock
  • Use of anesthetic drugs
  • Blood poisoning caused by bacterial toxic substances in the blood (toxemia)
  • Brain trauma
  • Electrical shock




Cardiac arrest is an emergency that will require immediate veterinary assistance to assess the animal's condition and the form of treatment. You will need to give a thorough history of your dog’s health to your veterinarian, including the onset and nature of the symptoms and possible incidents that might have precipitated the complications. He or she will then perform a complete physical examination, focusing on the dog's airways, breathing ability, and circulation. Your veterinarian will also constantly monitor your dog's blood pressure and pulse rate.


Routine diagnostic exams used to determine the underlying cause of the cardiac arrest include chest X-rays, complete blood count, biochemistry profile, and urinalysis. Blood samples are collected to determine the level of gases, including oxygen, in the blood. Dogs suspected of having an underlying heart disease may undergo echocardiography to evaluate the extent of the problem.




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