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Shock and your Dog

Updated: Nov 3, 2023


Shock is a life-threatening disorder that occurs when the body’s cells and organs are not getting enough blood flow, creating insufficient oxygen and nutrients to function, ultimately causing irreversible organ damage.


Your dog may experience severe blood loss; fluid loss; traumatic injury including amputation; anaphylactic shock; heart failure.

Types of Shock

There are many different causes of shock, which are classified into:

  • Cardiogenic shock: Inability of the heart to circulate blood; which results in, for example, acute heart failure;

  • Hypovolemic shock: which is the loss of intravascular fluid (i.e. blood); as a consequence of massive blood or fluid loss; and

  • Distributive shock: Redistribution of body fluid; (i.e. water and electrolytes) due to a disturbance in the fluid distribution.

Safety Precautions

Shock is an extremely serious and potentially life-threatening condition. It is imperative that after any medical and/or traumatic injury that the pet owner monitors and manages this condition as a priority.

Therefore, the best way to minimise the risk of shock is for the dog owner to assume that shock is present in all medical emergencies, and should follow the ‘Action for Shock’ seen below*, into all first aid emergencies. (Regardless of its classification/type, or the limited signs and symptoms which are present for shock at any given time).

Signs and Symptoms

Early Signs

  • Heart rate is elevated, causing pulse sounds to be strong and bound

  • Dog swings between anxiety and depression

  • Gums look red with a capillary refill time of 1-2 seconds

  • Dogs body temperature drops below 38.5°C

Progressive Signs

  • Breathing becomes shallow

  • Pulse weakens and becomes difficult to locate

  • Eyes look glazed and unfocused

  • Dog appears to be physically lethargic

  • Limbs are cool to the touch

  • Gums look abnormal; either pale, blue, white or mottled

  • Capillary refill time is longer than 2 seconds

  • Dogs temperature drops dramatically, well below 38.5°C

  • Dysponea / breathing difficulties worsen, below 10 breaths per minute

  • Collapse, unconscious

  • Cardiac arrest


1. Undertake Primary Assessment DRSABC

  • Check for Dangers – a danger may be that the dog has become aggressive (warning: never put a muzzle on a dog who has breathing difficulties)

  • Is your dog responding to your voice or your touch? If not, your dog may be unconscious

  • Send for help; if there is someone else in the house get them to do things like get the first aid kit, help carry dog into house, prepare the car and call the Vet. They may also be able to help you restrain your dog

  • Check the airway for vomit in the mouth, or foreign object and remove if there is

  • Check the breathing (respirations) feel / watch the rise and fall of the chest – start artificial respiration if not breathing

  • Check circulation (pulse) – start CPR if no pulse

2. Calm your dog, talking in a soothing way

3. Restrict dog’s movement by wrapping in a warm blanket

4. Elevate dogs rear end by placing a towel or pillow under hips; however, if you suspect

spinal injury or hip or back leg injuries:

  • Place dog on board supporting head and secure;

  • Tilt board to raise dog’s body above heart level by placing a couple of towels or

  • pillows underneath

You must elevate the rear end of your dog so the oxygenated blood keeps the heart and brain functioning.

5. Undertake Secondary Assessment

  • Manage severe bleeding

  • Manage fractures

  • Manage heat stroke; and

  • any other life threatening injuries

6. Get to vet urgently.

If you have someone who can drive for you:

  • If your dog stops breathing, begin artificial respiration on the way to the vet surgery

  • If your dog’s heart stops beating, begin CPR on the way to the vet surgery


Canine Emergency First Aid Guide

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