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Dog Owner's Home Veterinary Handbook


Conditions that prevent oxygen from getting into the lungs and blood cause asphyxiation. They are carbon monoxide poisoning, inhalation of toxic fumes (smoke, gasoline, propane, refrigerants, solvents), drowning and smothering (which can happen when a dog is left too long in an airtight space). Other causes are foreign bodies in the airways and injuries to the chest that interfere with breathing.

The symptoms of lack of oxygen are straining to breathe, gasping for breath (often with the head extended), extreme anxiety and weakness progressing to loss of consciousness as the dog begins to succumb. The pupils begin to dilate. The tongue and mucus membranes turn blue, which is a reflection of insufficient oxygen in the blood. One exception to the blue color is carbon monoxide poisoning, in which the membranes are a bright red.

Treatment: The most important consideration is to provide your dog with fresh air to breathe. (Better yet, give oxygen if available.) If respirations are shallow or absent, begin immediately by giving mouth-to-nose respiration.

If there is an open wound in the chest, which you can diagnose if you hear air sucking in and out as the dog breathes, seal off the chest by pinching the skin together over the wound.

When the situation is one of drowning, turn the dog upside down, suspended by the legs, and let the water run out of the dog's windpipe. Then position the dog with the head lower than the chest (on a slope, or with a roll beneath the chest) and begin artificial respiration. Mouth-to-nose forced respiration may be required. With heart stoppage, heart massage should be attempted. Continue efforts to resuscitate until the dog breathes naturally or until no heartbeat is felt for five minutes. (See Artificial Respiration and Heart Massage in this chapter.)

Once the immediate crisis is over, veterinary aid should be sought. Pneumonia from inhalation is a frequent complication.

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