If you’ve ever been in the presence of someone fainting, you know how sudden and scary it can be. What’s even scarier is when it happens to your pet. Unlike humans—who can give you warning they’re about to pass out—animals often faint very suddenly when they’re under duress. Owners are instantly thrown into a panic. What happened? Is my pet okay? What caused them to faint?
Fainting vs. collapsing
Fainting—also known as syncope or a syncopal episode—is a sign of a serious underlying health condition. Fainting occurs when a pet loses consciousness temporarily. They may collapse to the ground and appear to be sleeping, but should still be breathing and have a heartbeat.
It’s important to realize that fainting is different from collapsing. Collapsing means that your pet can no longer support itself while standing. Your dog or cat may collapse due to weakness caused by heat stroke, dehydration, shock and many other health problems. The main difference is that they will maintain consciousness.
Why do pets faint?
It’s unlikely that your pet will faint out of the blue. Generally, there’s a larger health concern causing the syncopal episode. The most common causes of fainting are neurological and cardiac episodes that interrupt proper circulation. These problems prevent blood from flowing to the brain and delivering oxygen, resulting in the fainting spell.
While both fainting and collapsing are cause for concern, syncope can be fatal if you don’t act fast. Fainted pets with a heart problem may go into cardiac arrest, which means pet owners need to seek veterinary help quickly. Cardiac arrest and an abnormal heartbeat require immediate action to save your pet’s life.
How to save your fainting pet’s life
When a pet faints, there’s no time to delay. Owners need to act decisively. Your pet’s life could hang in the balance. Here are the four critical steps to take as soon as your pet faints:
- Check pulse and breathing: Immediately go to your pet and make sure they’re still breathing. Listen closely at their chest and make sure you can hear them inhale and exhale. It might be faint, so listen with intent. Then, check for a pulse by putting two fingers to their neck or on the inside of their leg near the groin. For smaller animals, you can also put two fingers to their chest to feel their heart beat.
- Call the vet: Once you’ve confirmed your pet is still alive and breathing, call the vet or a local emergency vet clinic. Stay calm as you explain the situation. Be concise. “My dog has fainted. He is unconscious but still breathing.” The vet will tell you exactly what to do. If there’s someone with you, have one person focus on the call while the other tends to your pet.
- Transport your pet: Your pet needs emergency veterinarian attention. Your vet will accommodate you or direct you to the nearest emergency vet. To transport your pet, lift them while cradling their head. Pick them up and set them down gently in the back seat of your vehicle. Drive quickly yet safely to the nearest veterinarian, taking turns slow to avoid excessive motion.
- Make the situation clear: If you’ve called ahead, the vet should expect you and be ready to help stabilize and revive your pet. In any case, stay calm and make the situation clear. “I have an unconscious dog that needs medical attention right away.” Vet personnel will know how to react quickly, to ensure your pet is properly stabilized.
Many times, your pet will recover from a syncopal episode shortly after they faint. This can happen in transit to the vet or even before you get them in the car. They might be agitated or startled to wake up feeling woozy or scared that they’re in a new place.
Do your best to keep them calm and soothed. If another person is with you, have them focus their attention on calmly stroking your pet and talking in a soothing voice. Remember, animals mirror our emotions. The calmer you are, the calmer your pet will be, making it easier for them to recover from their episode.
Treat the underlying condition
Fainting is thankfully rare in dogs and cats. Most cases come from a larger underlying condition, so speak with your vet about the cause of the syncope at your emergency vet visit. Many cardiac conditions that may cause fainting can be monitored and treated. Likewise, there’s medication for neurological conditions that cause fainting and seizures.
Watching your pet faint is a scary experience. The best thing you can do for them is keep your head and act quickly. Their health and wellness hangs in the balance of your action, so be decisive and smart in getting them the medical attention they need.