Do Not Resuscitate (DNR)
Should you ever give this order for your dog?

Decision time

I was shocked when the emergency clinic's vet asked me how aggressive they should be if my dog suffered cardiopulmonary arrest during her back surgery.

I blurted out 'Do Everything!' Now that the emergency is over, I've had a chance to think about it and realize this is something dog owners should consider before there's an emergency.

The clinic where my dog was treated routinely asks this question of owners when dogs are undergoing anesthesia and surgery.

Reality vs Television

On TV, someone goes into cardiac arrest, gets CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) and walks out of the hospital all better. In real life, studies from 2009 to 2012 showed that fewer than 18% of people who get CPR ever recover.

The situation isn't much different at veterinary hospitals. "CPR in pets has an abysmal success rate even when done properly," stated a veterinarian who's spent the last three years working in an emergency animal clinic. His experience agrees with a recent report from the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University.

Why I wanted aggressive treatment

My dog's situation was one where aggressive treatment in cardiopulmonary arrest made sense. (Thankfully, it wasn't necessary). She was 5-years old and otherwise healthy with all vital organs intact.

She was at the hospital for repair of her ruptured disk and as the condition was caught early, expected to make a full recovery after surgery. (That was the case.)

Instances where DNR might make sense

My decision could have been different if any of the following had been the case:

  • Dog was elderly and in declining health
  • Dog had cancer or other terminal condition
  • Other vital organs such as kidneys or heart were already compromised
  • Even successful CPR would leave her with a reduced quality of life
  • Cost of CPR with additional treatment/prolonged hospital stay would be a burden for the family

There's no one right answer

This is not something we like to think about, but it may be a question you're asked someday.

If your dog is undergoing emergency treatment, in an Intensive Care Unit, or severely injured or ill, you may be asked by your vet what your wishes are.

Think about this now and what you want to ask the vet before you decide so you don't have to make such a grave decision when your emotions are already in overload.


If you'd like to see the correct way to perform CPR on a dog, here's a good video from The Doctors television show.