Part of being a responsible pet parent means being prepared for the worst. You already bring your pet to preventative health screenings, have an emergency plan, and maybe even have pet insurance or a pet prescription card. But do you know when and how to do cat or dog CPR?
CPR stands for “cardiopulmonary resuscitation.” It’s an emergency procedure performed to manually preserve brain function during cardiac arrest by partially restoring flow of oxygenated blood to the brain and heart.
Many vets will not recommend that pet parents try this on their own, as they've seen pets come in with damaged ribs or lungs after a pet parent performed CPR incorrectly. If you live far from emergency veterinary care or want to be able to perform CPR on your own pet for another reason, consider taking a hands-on class with professionals first. Here, we cover the basic steps, though nothing beats professional experience.
There's also a danger of a pet biting while you perform CPR, like if they're very distressed or confused once they start breathing again. Unconscious dogs can even bit instinctively. This can be dangerous for obvious reasons -- if your face or hands are right up against your pet's mouth.
When to Use CPR on Cats or Dogs
CPR should only be used on unresponsive pets. Unresponsive means your pet isn’t breathing or their heart has stopped.
To check your pet’s breathing:
- Place a hand in front of their nose or mouth to feel for breaths without blocking the airway.
To check for a heartbeat:
- Listen for a heartbeat at your pet’s chest, on the left side. You can also check for a pet’s pulse in the groin region, where the legs meet the torso.
If your pet is unresponsive – no breathing or no heartbeat – you or a professional can begin CPR with these steps:
Step 1. Find an Open Airway
Check for airway obstructions.
- Carefully pull your pet’s tongue forward, out of the mouth, to open the airway.
Warning: unresponsive dogs can still bite instinctively.
- If no neck or head injuries are present, move your pet’s head until their neck is as straight as possible.
- Look into the mouth and down the throat to inspect the airway for obstructive objects.
- Carefully remove any visible foreign objects.
If you’ve cleared the airway or there are no obstructions to breathing, proceed to Step 2.
If breathing is still obstructed and you’re unable to remove a blockage, start the Heimlich maneuver.
- Hug your pet with their back against your chest.
- Position your fisted hand just below the rib cage.
- With both arms (or one hand on a smaller cat or dog), perform 5 sharp thrusts to the abdomen to expel the obstruction.
- Now go back to Part A and check the airway for any visible obstructions and remove them.
Step 2. Rescue Breathing
You’ll know an airway is clear when you can perform rescue breathing mouth-to-nose with no blockages. To perform artificial respiration on your pet:
- Again, make sure your pet’s neck is as straight as possible to their head and body.
- Hold your pet’s mouth closed and position your mouth over their nose.
- Breathe directly into their nose until their chest expands. (If the chest doesn’t expand, go back to Step 1 and check their airways).
- Breathe into their nose about once every 5 seconds.
Step 3. Chest Compressions for Circulation
- Check for any bleeding and staunch flow with applied pressure.
- Position your pet on their right side. The exception being for large, non-barrel chested dogs, who may be positioned on their backs like for human CPR.
- For dogs, position your hands where your dog’s left elbow touches the chest, about the lower half of the chest on the left side. Press down gently on your pet’s heart.
- Compress about 1 inch for medium sized dogs.
- Compress about 1 ½ inches for larger dogs.
- For cats, position one hand over the heart and use a squeezing motion with the thumb and forefingers to compress the heart.
- Alternate 15 chest compressions with 2 rescue breaths (Step 2).
- Give 80-100 chest compressions per minute for larger dogs.
- Give 100-150 chest compressions per minute for smaller dogs and cats.
- Continue with regular compressions and breathing until you feel their breathing and heartbeat return.
Getting a Professional
Contact your vet as quickly as possible during an emergency situation. If someone is with you during the emergency, they should call the vet while you are performing CPR. If you are alone, notify your vet about the situation as soon your pet is responsive or breathing on their own. If you are unable to stabilize your pet, transport them to a vet’s office as quickly as possible.
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This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian or other qualified professional with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard or delay seeking professional advice due to what you may have read on our website.
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